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A giant kangaroo would have lived in New Guinea 20,000 years ago


A new study published in the journal Archeology in Oceania indicates that a giant kangaroo that walked on all fours and roamed Papua New Guinea, could have lived until just 20,000 years ago thanks to the absence of humans in the area. It therefore lived long after other large ‘megafauna’ on mainland Australia died out.

In the work, paleontologists re-examined the remains of extinct large-bodied marsupials recovered from Pleistocene layers of the Nombe rock shelter in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Their findings suggest that a marsupial species as large as a panda still inhabited the upper montane forests 55,000 years ago, and that two now-extinct giant kangaroos persisted until at least 27,000-22,000 years ago.


Name Rock Shelter

The analysis’ new dating methods revealed that when humans first arrived in the PNG Highlands, possibly 60,000 years ago, numerous species of large mammals, including the extinct thylacine and a panda-like marsupial (called Hulitherium tomasettii ), were still present there.

“If these megafaunal species did survive in the Papua New Guinea Highlands for much longer than their Australian counterparts, then it may have been because humans visited the Nombe area infrequently and in low numbers until 20,000 years ago.” said Tim Denham, ANU Professor of Archaeological Sciences and co-senior author of the new study.

“The Nombe rock shelter is the only site in New Guinea known to have been occupied by humans for tens of thousands of years and it preserves remains of extinct species of megafauna, most of them unique to New Guinea,” continues the expert.

This area also contains the remains of extinct species of megafauna, most of which are found exclusively in New Guinea.

“New Guinea is a forested and mountainous northern part of the formerly larger Australian mainland called ‘Sahul,’ but our knowledge of its faunal and human history is poor compared to that of mainland Australia,” says Denham.

Archaeologists first discovered the hidden rock shelter in the 1960s. Still, the most intensive fieldwork was carried out between 1971 and 1980 by Dr. Mary-Jane Mountain of the Australian National University, also one of the authors of the most recent article.

“Although it is often assumed that all megafaunal species in Australia and New Guinea became extinct from coast to coast by 40,000 years ago, this generalization is not based on much real evidence. It is probably more harmful than helpful to work out exactly what happened to the dozens of large mammals, birds and reptiles that lived on the continent when people arrived,” concludes the paleontologist.

Referencia: Gavin J. Prideaux et al, Re‐evaluating the evidence for late‐surviving megafauna at Nombe rockshelter in the New Guinea highlands, Archaeology in Oceania (2022). DOI: 10.1002/arco.5274

Matthew C. Mcdowell et al, Re-evaluating the Late Quaternary fossil mammal assemblage of Seton Rockshelter, Kangaroo Island, South Australia, including the evidence for late-surviving megafauna, Journal of Quaternary Science (2015). DOI: 10.1002/jqs.2789

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