A photograph of a kangaroo and the sunset. Depositphotos.

Giant Kangaroos Roamed Earth 20,000 Years Ago

According to new research, a giant kangaroo roamed the Papua New Guinea Highlands 20,000 years ago, long after Australia's large-bodied megafauna went extinct.


Kangaroos are pretty awesome animals, not just because they look pretty cool, cute, and frightening at the same time, but because, as it turns out, there were giant kangaroos thousands of years ago. According to new research, a giant kangaroo roamed the Papua New Guinea Highlands 20,000 years ago. That is long after Australia’s large-bodied megafauna went extinct.

With the help of Australian National University archaeologists and geoscientists, Flinders University paleontologists have re-examined megafauna bones from the Nombe Rock Shelter fossil site in Chimbu Province in order to gain a better understanding of PNG’s fascinating natural history. According to the new analysis, bones from the PNG Highlands were found to have been dated back 60,000 years, which indicates several large mammals, including the extinct thylacine and the extinct panda-like marsupial (called Hulitherium tomasettii), were still living there when people first arrived.


Two Kangaroo Species

It is believed that two extinct kangaroo species may have survived for another 40,000 years in the region, including one that hopped on four legs. ANU Professor of Archaeological Science Tim Denham, co-lead author of the new study published in Archaeology in Oceania, explains that if these megafaunal species did survive in Papua New Guinea Highlands much longer than their Australian counterparts, it might have been because people only visited the Nombe area infrequently and in very few numbers until about 20,000 years ago. There are only a handful of sites in New Guinea where human habitation stretches back tens of thousands of years. It preserves the remains of extinct megafaunal species, most of which are unique to the region.

Consistent findings

As Professor Denham, who initially undertook fieldwork in the Papua New Guinea Highlands in 1990, explains, “New Guinea is a forested, mountainous region in the northern part of the formerly more extensive Australian continent called Sahul. However, our knowledge of its fauna and human history is poor compared to mainland Australia.” It is believed that the latest Nombe study is consistent with similar evidence from Kangaroo Island, according to Professor Gavin Prideaux, co-author of the study.

In 2015, paleontologists at Flinders published a paper in the Journal of Quaternary Science suggesting megafaunal kangaroos existed in some of the less accessible areas of the continent until about 20,000 years ago. There have been many misconceptions about megafaunal extinction timelines, according to scientists. Despite the popular assumption that all megafaunal species in Australia and New Guinea became extinct 40,000 years ago, Professor Prideaux argues that this generalization lacks much evidence.


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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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