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Last updated at 15:57 BST, Monday, 19 July 2010

Cave of fossils found in Australia

Summary

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.

Reporter:
Phil Mercer

a fossilised skull

A fossilised skull

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Report

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.

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Vocabulary

treasure trove

collection of valuable things

fossils

preserved remains of animals or plants, usually found in rocks

outback

inland area of the Australian countryside

palaeontologists

scientists who study fossils

breathtaking

exciting and surprising

specimens

examples

marsupial

animals, often found in Australia, that carry their young in a pocket of skin called a pouch

plunged

fell suddenly

gems

highly-prized articles; things that are very beautiful

unearthed

discovered

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