December 1, 2022

Illustration of PNG megafauna Hulitherium, Thylacine, Protemnodon, Tree Kangaroo, Bulmer’s Flying Fox and Bruijn’s Lengthy-beaked Echidna (left to proper) species: Hulitherium thomasetti, Thlacinus sp. cf. T. cynocephalus, Protemnodon nombe, Protemnodon tumbuna, Dendrolagus noibano, Aproteles bumerae (extant), Zaglossus bruijni (extant) in New Guinea, Higher Montane forest. Credit score: Peter Schouten (Finish of the Megafauna)

The reign of Papua New Guinea’s megafauna continued lengthy after people arrived.A brand new research suggests {that a} big kangaroo that previously traversed the Papua New Guinea Highlands on 4 legs might have lived as lately as 20,000 years in the past, lengthy after large-bodied megafauna on mainland Australia turned extinct.

In an effort to study extra in regards to the fascinating pure historical past of PNG, paleontologists from Flinders College and archaeologists and geoscientists from Australian Nationwide College (ANU) have reexamined megafauna bones from the wealthy Nombe Rock Shelter fossil website in Chimbu Province.

New courting strategies from the analysis reveal that when people first arrived within the PNG Highlands, roughly 60,000 years in the past, quite a few big mammal species, together with the extinct thylacine and a marsupial that resembled a panda (named Hulitherium tomasettii), had been nonetheless current.

Excavations on the Nombe rock shelter taken in 1979 throughout early fieldwork led by the Australian Nationwide College. Credit score: Barry Shaw (ANU) / Archaeology in Oceania journal.

Surprisingly, two giant extinct kangaroo species, one among which bounded on 4 legs fairly than two, might have survived within the area for an extra 40,000 years.

“If these megafaunal species did certainly survive within the PNG Highlands for for much longer than their Australian equivalents, then it could have been as a result of folks solely visited the Nombe space sometimes and in low numbers till after 20,000 years in the past,” says ANU Professor of Archaeological Science Tim Denham, co-lead creator within the new research revealed within the journal Archaeology in Oceania.

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“Nombe rock shelter is the one website in New Guinea recognized to have been occupied by folks for tens of 1000’s of years and preserves stays of extinct megafaunal species, most of them distinctive to New Guinea.

“New Guinea is a forested, mountainous, northern a part of the previously extra intensive Australian continent known as ‘Sahul’ however our data of its faunal and human historical past is poor in contrast with that of mainland Australia,” says Professor Denham who initially undertook fieldwork within the PNG Highlands in 1990.

Analysis co-author Professor Gavin Prideaux, from the Flinders College Palaeontology Laboratory, says the most recent Nombe research is per comparable proof from Kangaroo Island, beforehand produced by Flinders paleontologists, that additionally suggests megafaunal kangaroos might have persevered to round 20,000 years in the past in a number of the much less accessible areas of the continent.

He says many normal assumptions about megafaunal extinction timelines have been “extra dangerous than useful.”

“Though it’s usually assumed that the entire megafaunal species in Australia and New Guinea turned extinct coast to coast by 40,000 years in the past, this generalization will not be based mostly on very a lot precise proof,” says Professor Prideaux. “It’s in all probability extra dangerous than useful in resolving precisely what occurred to the handfuls of huge mammals, birds, and reptiles that had been residing on the continent when folks first arrived.”

The Nombe rock shelter, positioned within the neighborhood of the Nongefaro, Pila, and Nola communities in PNG, would have been sometimes visited by nomadic teams of Highlands peoples in prehistoric instances.

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The hidden rock shelter was first excavated by archaeologists within the Sixties, however probably the most intensive section of fieldwork was performed in 1971 and 1980 by ANU archaeologist Dr. Mary-Jane Mountain, who can be an creator on the most recent paper. Her preliminary analysis yielded the primary detailed description and interpretation of the Nombe website and performed a pivotal position in shaping our understanding of the human historical past of the PNG Highlands.

“Mary-Jane (Mountain) initially hypothesized that megafauna on the website might have survived for tens of millennia after human colonization, however this has solely been confirmed with the arrival of latest strategies in archaeology, courting, and palaeontological science,” Professor Denham says.

Professor Prideaux says these new purposes of recent analytical strategies, or new excavations on the Nombe website, would additional affirm timelines of late surviving megafauna and length of occupation by folks in PNG.

Reference: “Re-evaluating the proof for late-surviving megafauna at Nombe rockshelter within the New Guinea highlands” by Gavin J. Prideaux, Isaac A. R. Kerr, Jacob D. van Zoelen, Rainer Grün, Sander van der Kaars, Annette Oertle, Katerina Douka, Elle Grono, Aleese Barron, Mary-Jane Mountain, Michael C. Westaway and Tim Denham, 16 September 2022, Archaeology in Oceania.
DOI: 10.1002/arco.5274

The research was funded by the Australian Analysis Council. 

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