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The Giant Rats of Timor

The Giant Rats of Timor

By Julien Louys

Giant rats coexisted with humans for 40,000 years on the island of Timor. Their extinction is a cautionary tale about the ecological consequences of deforestation in South-East Asia today.

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Arriving on the island of Timor more than 40,000 years ago, the first inhabitants would have been confronted with an astounding sight: rats the size of cats and small dogs scurrying through the trees and undergrowth of the forests. Rather than being frightened, however, these early inhabitants must have been delighted at the delicious bounty on offer. Archaeological excavations throughout Timor-Leste, which preserve the records of what people ate and how they lived for forty millennia, has unearthed thousands of chewed, cut and burnt bones of giant rats. It’s clear people were hunting and trapping these rats for food, cooking them over open fires, and discarding their chewed remains on the cave floors.

The island of Timor is situated at the eastern end of a region known as Wallacea, which consists of more than 17,000 islands that have never been connected to either the South-East Asian or Australian continents (Fig. 1). Many of the plants, fungi and animals that call these...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.