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The Ice Age Lizards of Oz

Excavations at Colosseum Chamber. Credit: Gilbert Price

Excavations at Colosseum Chamber. Credit: Gilbert Price

By Gilbert Price

A chance finding in a Queensland cave has revealed that giant and dangerous lizards still lived when the first humans reached Australia.

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There’s an old joke in reference to the wildlife in Australia that “everything is trying to kill you”. While that might be a fun way to scare tourists, there is no joking about the murderous killer lizards of the last Ice Age. In fact, we have just uncovered the first fossils to show that those huge lizards were still stalking the bush when the first people migrated from South-East Asia to the Australian continent.

Imagine being one of those first human inhabitants of Australia. It’s around 50,000 years ago, and you’ve just finished a most extraordinary sea journey from tropical South-East Asia. You’ve already said goodbye to your family and friends and are about to begin life in a foreign southern land where the climate, landscape, vegetation and animals are completely different.

It’s a scary enough image as it is, but throw in the giant predators of the last Ice Age and that image becomes truly terrifying.

The biggest mainland carnivorous mammals included a couple of species of “Tasmanian” devil, as well as the thylacine. They were fearsome creatures in their own right, but by far the undisputed top mammalian predator was the marsupial lion Thylacoleo. This was not a lion at all, but rather a 150 kg pouched predator more closely related to wombats and koalas.

The crocodiles included not just the salties and freshies of today but a huge inland...

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