According to a new study by researchers at the University of Queensland, “giant killer lizards” used to stomp around Australian land roughly 50,000 years ago. The discovery came as a surprise to the team of scientists, who now believe that Australia’s first human inhabitants may have lived during the same time as this giant predator.
DISCOVERY OF THE GIANT KILLER LIZARD
In a statement, Dr. Gilbert Price, a vertebrate palaeoecologist, expressed his disbelief at coming across the find, “Our jaws dropped when we found a tiny fossil from a giant lizard during a two meter deep excavation of one of the Capricorn Caves, near Rockhampton.” The 0.4-inch (1-centimeter) bone, which scientists have now classified as an “osteoderm,” comes from underneath the lizard’s skin. So far, it’s the youngest record of a giant lizard ever found in Australia, uncovered just 6.5 feet (2 meters) below ground during the dig.
MORE ON THE GIANT KILLER LIZARD
Today, the biggest lizard in Australia (and the fourth largest on Earth) is the perentie, which can grow to be 6.5 feet long. Although scientists have not yet classified which species the bone belongs to, they believe it might come from the Komodo dragon or the now extinct Megalania Monitor lizard – a giant goanna that once reached 20 feet in length and weighed over 1,000 pounds.
Based on carbon-dating, the bone is estimated to be about 50,000 years old, which means the presence of this species would have coincided with the time Australia’s first human inhabitants are believed to have arrived during the last Ice Age. During this period, the continent was still home to varying species of giant crocodiles and lizards. Most have disappeared since then, although the exact reason why has not been conclusively settled upon.
“It’s been long-debated whether or not humans or climate change knocked off the giant lizards, alongside the rest of the megafauna,” Price states. “Humans can only now be considered as potential drivers of their extinction.” For more information about the giant killer lizard, the study has been published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.