Emily Mann discovered the bone of the new species with Dr Scott Hocknull of the Queensland Museum.
Emily Mann discovered the bone of the new species with Dr Scott Hocknull of the Queensland Museum. Contributed

Tooth from a new marsupial discovered at Capricorn Caves

LAST YEAR 11 year-old Emily Mann dug up the prize of a lifetime - a mystery fossil tooth.

"I was stoked to know I have found a rare fossil and it has inspired me to become a palaeontologist in the future," Emily said.

At the time, the palaetonologists couldn't identify what is was but the mystery of the 500,000 year old fossil tooth has been now solved.

After careful investigation and comparison back at the Queensland Museum the tooth turned out to be a lower molar from the pygmy marsupial lion, Thylacoleo hilli.

 

Reconstruction of pygmy marsupial lion, Thylacoleo hilli, by Andrey Atuchin, Rochelle Lawrence and Scott Hocknull.
Reconstruction of pygmy marsupial lion, Thylacoleo hilli, by Andrey Atuchin, Rochelle Lawrence and Scott Hocknull. © Capricorn Caves

 

During last year's annual Fossil Open Day at Capricorn Caves the public was invited to help palaeontologists look for the bones and teeth of extinct species that once roamed the Rockhampton region around 500,000 years ago.

Thousands of people attended the day as citizen scientists, discovering the caves and learning about the past while sifting through fossil-rich sediment.

Rochelle Lawrence, Capricorn Caves palaeontologist, was the first to see the exciting new tooth.

"When I saw the tooth it was a shock, I'd never seen anything like it before, she said.

 

 

Mystery molar from Thylacoleo hilli found by Emily Mann on last year's Fossil Open Day at Capricorn Caves by Rochelle Lawrence.
Mystery molar from Thylacoleo hilli found by Emily Mann on last year's Fossil Open Day at Capricorn Caves by Rochelle Lawrence. © Capricorn Caves

 

Passing it on to Queensland Museum Senior Curator of Geosciences Dr. Scott Hocknull the excitement grew.

"When Rochelle and Emily came over to show me her discovery I was immediately stumped," Dr Hocknull said.

"I'd not seen a tooth like this before - it reminded me of a gigantic possum.

"The fossils found at these events are real, all legitimate discoveries, and we really don't know what amazing new discoveries will come with the next bag of finds" Ms Lawrence said.

All of the discoveries made on the day became part of the ever growing collection of fossils at the Queensland Museum.

This collection allows palaeontologists from across the globe to study and piece together the prehistory of the region.

 

Mystery molar from Thylacoleo hilli found by Emily Mann on last year's Fossil Open Day at Capricorn Caves by Rochelle Lawrence.
Mystery molar from Thylacoleo hilli found by Emily Mann on last year's Fossil Open Day at Capricorn Caves by Rochelle Lawrence. © Capricorn Caves

 

"We are always exited to see the local community come out for the day as citizen scientists and make these amazing discoveries with us", Dr. Hocknull said.

This is the first time a molar of this megafauna species has been found which is why it had the palaeontologists stumped.

"Imagine a cute looking possum that could bite your hand off," Dr. Hocknull said.

"A tooth like this is so rare and is like the Rosetta stone for palaeontologists. It's the first time a tooth like this has been found and it will tell us a lot about these weird extinct marsupial lions."

The pygmy marsupial lion is part of a group of extinct megafauna marsupials that evolved a taste for flesh from its plant-eating ancestors.

It's the smallest of the marsupial lions from a time period called the Pleistocene and lived in the ancient rainforests that once covered Rockhampton over 500,000 years ago.



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