A giant kangaroo that once roamed remote forests in the highlands of Papua New Guinea on all fours may have survived as little as 20,000 years ago — long after mainland Australia’s large megafauna went extinct, new research shows.
Flinders University paleontologists, in collaboration with archaeologists and geoscientists from the Australian National University, have used new techniques to re-examine megafauna bones from the rich fossil site Nombe Rock Shelter in Chimbu Province in an effort to better understand PNG’s intriguing natural history. to understand.
The new analysis yielded revised ages of the bones and suggests that several large mammal species, including the extinct thylacine and a panda-like marsupial (called Hulitherium tomasettii) were still living in the PNG highlands when humans first arrived, possibly about 60,000. year ago.
Remarkably, two large extinct kangaroo species, including one that walked on four legs instead of leaping on two legs, may have existed in the region for another 40,000 years.
“If these megafauna species have indeed survived much longer in the PNG highlands than their Australian equivalents, then it may be that humans only visited the Nombe area infrequently and in low numbers until after 20,000 years ago,” said ANU Archaeological Professor. Sciences Tim Denham, co-lead author of the new study published in the journal Archeology in Oceania.
“The Nombe rock shelter is the only site in New Guinea known to have been inhabited by humans for tens of thousands of years and contains remains of extinct megafauna species, most of which are unique to New Guinea.
“New Guinea is a forested, mountainous, northern part of the formerly more extensive Australian continent called ‘Sahul’, but our knowledge of its fauna and human history is poorly compared to that of mainland Australia,” said Professor Denham, who initially did fieldwork in the PNG Highlands in 1990.
Study co-author Professor Gavin Prideaux, of the Flinders University Paleontology Laboratory, says the latest Nombe study is consistent with similar evidence from Kangaroo Island, previously produced by Flinders paleontologists and published in the Journal of Quaternary Science in 2015, that also suggests that megafaunal kangaroos may have existed in some of the continent’s less accessible areas until about 20,000 years ago.
He says many common assumptions about the timelines of megafauna extinction have been “more harmful than helpful.”
“While it is often assumed that all megafauna species in Australia and New Guinea went extinct from coast to coast 40,000 years ago, this generalization is not based on very much factual evidence,” said Professor Prideaux. “It’s probably more damaging than helpful to sort out exactly what happened to the dozens of large mammals, birds and reptiles that lived on the continent when humans first arrived.”
The Nombe rock shelter, located near the communities of Nongefaro, Pila and Nola in PNG, is said to have been infrequently visited by nomadic groups of Highlanders in prehistoric times.
The hidden rock shelter was first excavated by archaeologists in the 1960s, but the most intensive phase of the fieldwork was conducted in 1971 and 1980 by ANU archaeologist Dr. Mary-Jane Mountain, who is also the author of the latest newspaper. Her initial research provided the first detailed description and interpretation of the Nombe site and played a pivotal role in shaping our understanding of the human history of the PNG highlands.
“Mary-Jane (Mountain) initially hypothesized that the megafauna at the site would have survived for decades after human colonization, but this has only been confirmed with the advent of new techniques in archaeology, dating and paleontological science,” said Professor Denham.
Professor Prideaux says these new applications of modern analytical techniques, or new excavations at the Nombe site, would further confirm the timelines of the late surviving megafauna and the duration of human occupation in PNG.
The latest research was published in Archeology in Oceania.
Researchers describe new kangaroo fossil from Papua New Guinea
Gavin J. Prideaux et al., Re-evaluating the evidence for late surviving megafauna at the Nombe rock shelter in the New Guinea highlands, Archeology in Oceania (2022). DOI: 10.1002/arco.5274
Matthew C. Mcdowell et al, Re-evaluating the Late Quaternary mammalian fossil assemblage from Seton Rockshelter, Kangaroo Island, South Australia, including the evidence for late-surviving megafauna, Journal of Quaternary Science (2015). DOI: 10.1002/jqs.2789
Quote: Papua New Guinea’s megafauna lasted long after humans arrived (October 2022, October 7) Recovered October 7, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-10-papua-guinea-megafauna-humans.html
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