Remains of 69 vertebrate species have so far been found in LBC and the other Thylacoleo Caves, including several entirely new to science.
THE FOSSILS IN LBC point to a very different landscape with a much more diverse f lora and fauna than that existing on the Nullarbor today. Remains of 69 vertebrate species have so far been found in this and the other Thylacoleo Caves, including several entirely new to science. This number is, however, certainly a fraction of what lived on the prehistoric Nullarbor.
It is only a snapshot of those species unlucky enough to have fallen into the cave, or to have been brought there by birds of prey. Diprotodons – giant extinct marsupials related to modern wombats and koalas – would almost certainly have existed on the Nullarbor at that time, along with other megafauna too big to fall through such a small opening.
If you stood on the spot above the entrance to LBC 500,000 years ago, you would have found yourself in an open woodland. The presence of many herbivore species is indicative of similar habitats in other parts of modern Australia. And some of these herbivores would truly have been giants.
The great short-faced kangaroo, Procoptodon goliah, the largest kangaroo yet known, which had an estimated body weight of 200kg and stood 2m tall, would have towered above you as it balanced on its hind legs and sturdy tail, as if on a tripod. Its long forelimbs could reach up and grasp branches 3m from the ground.
No less weighty was a huge wombat, Phascolonus gigas. One can only imagine what their burrows would have looked like! The most common out of the 23 kangaroo species found so far among the fossils from here is yet to be formally described. We know that it was slightly smaller than an average present-day female grey kangaroo, but it sported strange bony lumps above its eyes, making it unlike any other living or extinct kangaroo.
Let your gaze wander upward and you would be surprised to see tree kangaroos clambering about in the branches. The discovery of two new species of tree kangaroo (relatives of those now living in the tropical rainforests of northern Australia and New Guinea) indicates more than any other find that even as late as the middle Pleistocene (781,000–126,000 years ago) there were indeed trees growing on what is now a treeless plain.
Along with the herbivores came their predators. Thylacines, devils and, perhaps the most enigmatic of all, Thylacoleo carnifex, the so-called marsupial lion, after which the Nullarbor cave complex is named. This creature is a member of the otherwise herbivorous marsupial group that includes possums, koalas and wombats, and so it lacked the canines of typical carnivores.
Instead, to successfully inhabit its niche as a meat-eater, its incisors had morphed into daggers, and its pre-molars had evolved into huge blades to shear off chunks of
This view from the rock pile shows palaeontologists excavating below. Everything brought in and out must pass through the narrow solution pipe above.