Representation 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 wooded area. Credit score: Peter Schouten (Finish of the Megafauna)

The reign of Papua New Guinea’s megafauna persevered lengthy after people arrived.

A brand new find out about suggests {that a} large kangaroo that previously traversed the Papua New Guinea Highlands on 4 legs will have lived as not too long ago as 20,000 years in the past, lengthy after large-bodied megafauna on mainland Australia turned into extinct.

So to be told extra concerning the interesting herbal 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 Safe haven fossil website online in Chimbu Province.

New relationship strategies from the analysis disclose that after people first arrived within the PNG Highlands, kind of 60,000 years in the past, a lot of large mammal species, together with the extinct thylacine and a marsupial that resembled a panda (named Hulitherium tomasettii), had been nonetheless provide.

Nombe Rock Shelter

Excavations on the Nombe rock refuge taken in 1979 right through early fieldwork led via the Australian Nationwide College. Credit score: Barry Shaw (ANU) / Archaeology in Oceania magazine.

Unusually, two wide extinct kangaroo species, certainly one of which bounded on 4 legs fairly than two, will have survived within the area for an extra 40,000 years.

“If those megafaunal species did certainly continue to exist within the PNG Highlands for for much longer than their Australian equivalents, then it’s going to were as a result of other folks handiest visited the Nombe space occasionally and in low numbers till after 20,000 years in the past,” says ANU Professor of Archaeological Science Tim Denham, co-lead writer within the new find out about revealed within the magazine Archaeology in Oceania.

“Nombe rock refuge is the one website online in New Guinea recognized to were occupied via other folks for tens of 1000’s of years and preserves stays of extinct megafaunal species, maximum of them distinctive to New Guinea.

“New Guinea is a forested, mountainous, northern a part of the previously extra intensive Australian continent referred to as ‘Sahul’ however our wisdom of its faunal and human historical past is deficient when compared with that of mainland Australia,” says Professor Denham who to start with undertook fieldwork within the PNG Highlands in 1990.

Analysis co-author Professor Gavin Prideaux, from the Flinders University Palaeontology Laboratory, says the latest Nombe study is consistent with similar evidence from Kangaroo Island, previously produced by Flinders paleontologists, that also suggests megafaunal kangaroos may have persisted to around 20,000 years ago in some of the less accessible areas of the continent.

He says many general assumptions about megafaunal extinction timelines have been “more harmful than helpful.”

“Although it is often assumed that all of the megafaunal species in Australia and New Guinea became extinct coast to coast by 40,000 years ago, this generalization is not based on very much actual evidence,” says Professor Prideaux. “It is probably more harmful than helpful in resolving exactly what happened to the dozens of large mammals, birds, and reptiles that were living on the continent when people first arrived.”

The Nombe rock shelter, located in the vicinity of the Nongefaro, Pila, and Nola communities in PNG, would have been infrequently visited by nomadic groups of Highlands peoples in prehistoric times.

The hidden rock shelter was first excavated by archaeologists in the 1960s, but the most intensive phase of fieldwork was conducted in 1971 and 1980 by ANU archaeologist Dr. Mary-Jane Mountain, who is also an author on the latest paper. Her initial research yielded the first detailed description and interpretation of the Nombe site and played a pivotal role in shaping our understanding of the human history of the PNG Highlands.

“Mary-Jane (Mountain) initially hypothesized that megafauna at the site may have survived for tens of millennia after human colonization, but this has only been confirmed with the advent of new techniques in archaeology, dating, and palaeontological science,” Professor Denham says.

Professor Prideaux says these new applications of modern analytical techniques, or new excavations at the Nombe site, would further confirm timelines of late surviving megafauna and duration of occupation by people in PNG.

Reference: “Re-evaluating the evidence for late-surviving megafauna at Nombe rockshelter in 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 study was funded by the Australian Research Council. 

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