Archaeologists have discovered a new fossil site that could provide valuable insight into a period of Australia’s history that is little known. The “New Riversleigh” could contain the fossilized remains of new marsupials and bats.
Archaeologists from the University of New South Wales discovered the New Riversleigh site using satellite data to predict previously known fossil sites in Riversleigh, a designated World Heritage site, when they discovered a new area that had similar features found in the other sites. The new location is approximately 15 kilometers, 9.3 miles, southwestern of the western border of the Riversleigh site, in Queensland, Australia.
While the Riversleigh site contains fossilized remains of mammals, birds and mammals dating back 10 to 30 million years ago, from the Oligocene period to the Miocene period, New Riversleigh contains fossilized remains of marsupials and bats dating back 13 million to five million years ago. According to the archaeologists, the fossils found in the new site could provide plenty of answers for a period of great change in Australia’s climate.
Lead archaeologist Mike Archer, from UNSW, said in a statement, “This was a critical time during which the widespread, lush, ancient rainforests of Australia rapidly gave way to increasingly drier conditions. At least some of these new deposits may help to fill out that critical 13 to 5 million year old gap.”
Archer, speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, said the team reached the area last year and immediately discovered a trove of fossils, many of which were new to the archaeologist. As part of the excavation, 1.8 tons of rock samples were collected.
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The fossils could help archaeologists understand climate change in Australia’s history. In addition to the new fossil site, New Riversleigh contains 30 new caves that could also provide new insights into Australia’s past. While the fossils have yet to be identified, the archaeologists did discover the fossilized teeth were worn, indicating the animal's diet had changed from soft plants to those better suited for drier climates.
Archer and his team will treat the samples with acid to reveal the fossils contained in the rock, a process that could take up to three months. “This region is an amazing place at the heart of the story of the origins of the Australian continent and its bizarre biota,” said Archer.