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25-million-year-old fossils of a strange wombat relative and an even odder possum

Still Waters

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Posted (IP: Staff) ·

Imagine a vast, lush forest dominated by giant flightless birds and crocodiles. This was Australia’s Red Centre 25 million years ago. There lived several species of koala; early kangaroos the size of possums; and the wombat-sized ancestors of the largest-ever marsupial, Diprotodon optatum (around 2.5 tonnes).

A window onto this ancient time is provided by a little-studied fossil site near Pwerte Marnte Marnte, south of Alice Springs in central Australia. This late Oligocene site yielded the earliest-known fossils of marsupials that look similar to modern ones, as well as fossils from wholly extinct groups such as the enigmatic ilariids, which were something like a koala crossed with a wombat.

While excavating this site from 2014 to 2022, Flinders University palaeontologists have found fossils from many more wonderful animals. In a pair of recently published studies, we name two of these species: a strange wombat relative and an even odder possum.


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