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Graveyard Of Rhino-Sized Mega-Wombats Found
Scientists in Australia have discovered a huge graveyard of ancient, rhino-sized mega-wombats.
The site in the outback in Queensland is thought to contain up to 50 diprotodon skeletons which could be between 100,000 and 200,000-years-old.
Lead scientist on the dig, Scott Hocknall from the Queensland Museum in Brisbane, said one of the specimens, called Kenny, was one of the largest diprotodons he had ever seen.
Kenny's jawbone alone is 70cm (28 inches) long.
Pigeon-toed and with a backward-facing pouch large enough to carry an adult human, Mr Hocknull likened a diprotodon to "a cross between a wombat and a bear but the size of a rhinoceros".
The discovery could hold important clues on how the mega-wombats lived and what caused them to die out.
"It's a paleontologists' goldmine where we can really see what these megafauna were doing, how they actually behaved, what their ecology was," Mr Hocknall said.
"With so many fossils it gives us a unique opportunity to see these animals in their environment, basically, so we can reconstruct it."
Diprotodon, the largest marsupial ever to roam the earth, weighing up to 2.8 tons, lived between two million and 50,000 years ago and died out around the time indigenous tribes first appeared.
Human and climate triggers for its disappearance are hotly debated.
A huge array of other animal bones have also been found at the site, including the teeth of a 6m-long venomous lizard called megalania and the teeth and bony back-plates of an enormous ancient crocodile.
"We're almost certain that most of these carcasses of diprotodon have been torn apart by both the crocodiles and the lizards, because we've found shed teeth within their skeletons from both animals," Mr Hocknull said.
Towering super-kangaroos up to 2.5m tall called protemnodon have also been discovered at the location, along with the remains of tiny frogs, rodents and fish - an important find in what is now an extremely arid region.
Megafauna are thought to have evolved to such large sizes to cope with inhospitable climates and food scarcity, with fossils found in Australia of prehistoric emus, tree-dwelling crocodiles and carnivorous kangaroos.