19 July 2010
Scientists in Australia have discovered a cave filled with the remains of prehistoric mammals. The find reveals some surprising similarities between these lost creatures and modern-day kangaroos and koalas.
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The treasure trove of preserved fossils found in an outback cave has given palaeontologists a rare view into the weird and breathtaking world of prehistoric Australia.
Researchers from the University of New South Wales say they've found the remains of some of the strangest specimens anyone could possibly imagine.
The discovery includes 26 skulls from an extinct, wombat-like marsupial that was an odd-looking creature the size of a sheep, which had giant claws. These may have been used to climb trees - as koalas do today.
Finding such a large cluster of fossils has indicated these lost animals may have roamed the countryside in herds - like modern-day kangaroos. How they ended up deep underground is a mystery. One theory is they accidentally plunged into the cave through an opening that was obscured by vegetation. They either died from the fall, or became trapped and starved to death.
These ancient gems were unearthed at the famous Riversleigh World Heritage fossil fields in north-western Queensland, which scientists have been exploring since the early 1990s.
Its ancient deposits are among the richest and most extensive to be found anywhere.
Click to hear the vocabulary:
- treasure trove
collection of valuable things
preserved remains of animals or plants, usually found in rocks
inland area of the Australian countryside
scientists who study fossils
exciting and surprising
animals, often found in Australia, that carry their young in a pocket of skin called a pouch
highly-prized articles; things that are very beautiful