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'A wombat the size of an elephant': Miners dig up a giant

MEGA MARSUPIAL: A Diprotodon, the largest known marsupial to have ever lived. A jawbone found by Ipswich miner Dennis Russell belonged to a Kukaodonta, a giant marsupial similar to the Diprotodon.
MEGA MARSUPIAL: A Diprotodon, the largest known marsupial to have ever lived. A jawbone found by Ipswich miner Dennis Russell belonged to a Kukaodonta, a giant marsupial similar to the Diprotodon. Contributed

AN IPSWICH miner has revealed the story behind the discovery of a giant, and now extinct, wombat-like creature at the Jeebropilly coal mine 24 years ago.

Identified as a Kukaodonta, the marsupial roamed the Ipswich and south-east Queensland area more than 40,000 years ago along with other Ice Age megafauna such as the Diprotodon, the largest marsupial that ever existed.

Dennis Russell, former miner at New Hope's Jeebropilly mine, told the QT of the stunning find.

"I was working at the coal mine at Jeebropilly (in 1992) and we were digging a sump, to put a pump in," he said.

"It was near the Seven Mile Bridge. The bloke I was with was on the excavator digging a hole and we were already down about 20 or 30m.

"As he dug, these bones came out and there was a full jaw bone with these giant back molars. It had a long jaw bone with two giant tusks.

"They called the palaeontologists from Brisbane and they spread all the bones out and there was a backbone of this thing. They took it into Brisbane... to a museum near the exhibition grounds.

"They sent us a letter back saying it was a Diprodoton, a giant wombat the size of an elephant. They were really excited about it."

Following a check of the Queensland Museum database, Dr Andrew Rozefelds, a palaeontologist and the museum's Head of Geosciences Program, said the fossil bones from New Hope Colliery in 1992 were given to the Queensland Museum collection and were registered into the collection.

"The jaw was identified as a new genus Kukaodonta by (palaeontologist) Brian Mackness in 2010, which is distinct from Diprotodon," Dr Rozefelds said.

"The Kukaodonta was a large marsupial, not as big as a Diprotodon, but probably as big as a small calf based on the specimens I have seen.

"There were different kinds of large marsupials running around Queensland at that time and while the Kukaodonta fit in with the Diprotodon group of animals they generally have a different teeth structure, which identifies them.

"A lot of the fossils we have in Australia are often based on parts of jaw so you often don't get reconstructions of the entire animal because we don't have the entire animal to work from."

"The observations by Dennis are interesting and I am happy to talk to him about his recollections of the discovery - because he can add to our information on how the specimen was found not recorded at that time.

"We have only a few records of megafauna from this side of the Dividing Range, so we are interested in the fossil record from this part of Queensland and would welcome hearing about any new discoveries, and there have been a lot more finds on the Darling Downs"

The QT has published an image of the jaw of the Kukaodonta retrieved from the New Hope mine, a photograph taken by the late Mr Mackness.

 

An image of the jaw of the Kukaodonta retrieved from the New Hope mine.
An image of the jaw of the Kukaodonta retrieved from the New Hope mine. Contributed

University of Queensland palaeontologist Gilbert Price said other finds at Jeebropilly had dated back to the Jurassic period hundreds of millions of years ago. In December 1996, workers at New Hope's Jeebropilly Coal Mine near Rosewood found a dinosaur footprint. The University of Queensland identified the fossil as likely belonging to an ornithopod, which was a large two-legged plant-eater.

"But the Jeebropilly mine has also produced younger things and the Ice Age megafauna probably overlapped with the first humans in Australia at least 65,000 years ago," Dr Price said.

"We are talking the same time period we are living in today, called the Quaternary, spanning from today until about 2.6million years ago. We often refer to that period as being the 'Ice Age'. We just happen to be in a warm phase now.

"It doesn't mean there was ice everywhere. In south-east Queensland, it was cool but dry at the same time. The (Kukaodonta) is related to the wombat, but not a wombat at all. You might call it a wombat-like marsupial because it belongs to a family that is completely extinct today. The Diprotodon is the biggest marsupial that ever existed and the 'big boy' in the Diprotodontid group."

Topics:  diprotodon editors picks ice age ipswich kukaodonta megafauna queensland museum


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