Scientists find a mass grave of extinct 'mega-wombats' in Australia

Paleontologists working in Queensland, Australia, have uncovered the biggest find yet of diprotodons, a pre-historic marsupial that's also known as the "mega-wombat". Scientists hope that the discovery of these 50 distinct skeletons may shed some light behind the reason for this species' extinction.

It was scientists from the Queensland Museum in Brisbane who uncovered the fossils, which are believed to be between 100,000 and 200,000 years old – and they're calling it a "paleontologist's goldmine". The diprotodon was a marsupial herbivore about the size of a rhinoceros and boasting a backward-facing pouch so large it could fit an adult human.

Scientists find a mass grave of extinct 'mega-wombats' in AustraliaS

The fossils of the mega-wombat were discovered in a large concentration, allowing paleontologists to better speculate about what these megafauna were doing, how they behaved, and what their ecology was like. A preliminary theory is that the diprotodons were trapped in boggy conditions while taking refuge from dry conditions.

It also appears that they were getting picked off by crocodiles.

What's particularly interesting about these animals is that they may have rubbed elbows with indigenous peoples living in Australia about 50,000 years ago. It's thought that human hunting may have contributed to their demise. Other theories postulate climate change.

One specimen was particularly massive for a diprotodon, boasting a jawbone 28 inches long (70 cm). The gravesite also revealed other animals, including lizards and crocodiles. In fact, the scientists are fairly confident that many of the diprotodons were ripped apart by these crocs, as they found shed teeth within their skeletons.

You can read more about this discovery at the BBC.

Top image via The Standard. Inset artwork composed by Peter Trusler.