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  Giant Marsupial Lion bones found

Giant Marsupial Lion bones found
AAP July 31, 2002

THE "fresh" appearance of the world's first perfect marsupial lion skeleton, excavated from a Nullarbor cave, has scientists wondering how long it really has been extinct.

West Australian Museum scientists have excavated a cache of 20 extraordinarily well-preserved skeletons from extinct giant marsupials including the lion, a kangaroo and what could even be a new kind of horned wallaby.

Palaeontologist John Long said unearthing the "treasure trove" was truly extraordinary.

"It was mind boggling," Dr Long said.

The most remarkable find was the "sexy" marsupial lion, also known as Thylacoleo carnifex, which is believed to have lived sometime between 50,000 and 1.5 million years ago, he said.

"It's a sexy animal because it was the biggest predator that ever lived in Australia - and at the same time it's been surrounded by mystery as to whether it was a fruit eater or a carnivore," he said.

"Some people have argued that its giant, shearing teeth were for chomping up hard fruit."

Now with the discovery of the "perfect" skeleton, and seven partial lion skeletons, prehistoric DNA may finally tell scientists when and how the lion lived and died.

"The dating on the cave series will be very interesting to see how old these things are, whether they overlap with human arrival in Australia, or whether they are younger than the postulated extinction of Megafauna.

"They look so fresh and clean as bones that, you know, I'm only guessing that they're between 50,000 and 1.5 million years old because that is the age range for the pleistocene.

"If they were much younger it would be very exciting and controversial."

Dr Long said the undisturbed bones were found in caves on the Nullarbor Plain which were sealed shortly after the animals fell into them - until nine cavers stumbled across them in May.

The cavers were exploring the Nullarbor in an ultra-light aircraft when they made their find.

Dr Long said they did exactly the right thing - they did not touch the unusual bones but took photos of them to send to museums for identification.

He predicted that the caves would yield up many more exciting discoveries, including previously unknown extinct species.

"We've only started to touch the surface of what could be found in these caves and what we've got are some of the most remarkable and controversial animals," Dr Long said.





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