Riversleigh / Naracoorte fossil site (World Heritage)

By | September 28, 2021

The two world heritage sites Riversleigh (Queensland) and Naracoorte (South Australia) are among the most important fossil sites in the world. Riversleigh is best known for mammalian fossils from the Oligo-Miocene (15-25 million years ago). At Naracoorte, fossils and skeletons of nearly 100 species of vertebrates from the late Pleistocene have been found in caves. There are numerous relics of extinct marsupials in the Victoria Cave.

Riversleigh / Naracoorte Fossil Site: Facts

Official title: Riversleigh / Naracoorte fossil deposit
Natural monument: Riversleigh semi-arid area covering 100 square kilometers; Riversleigh one of the richest sites in the world for mammals from the Oligo-Miocene (15-25 million years ago) to the Pliocene and Pleistocene, fossil finds in hard limestone, extinct species such as “bag lion” (Thylacaleo carnifex) and “feather-tailed possum” as well as “Tasmanian Tiger”, due to 35 fossil bat species, Riversleigh is the richest area in the world for this species, including the remains of a 15 million year old monastery; cool Naracoorte caves with an area of ​​3 km²; Originated 5-36 million years ago; 200,000 years ago sediment and bone deposits in the cave entrances and chimneys (sinkholes), fossil finds mainly in Victoria Cave, one of 26 known caves in the Naracoorte Cave Conservation Park; 93 vertebrate species of the megafauna such as the »Australian giant python« (Wonambi naracoortenis) and »giant thermometer chicken« (Progura naracoortensis); 5000 tons of bones are deposited in the 70 m² so-called “fossil chamber”; Also finds of 5 frog species, 2 of which still live on site, and 12 snake species, 9 of which still live in the Naracoorte area
Continent: Australia / Oceania; See top-mba-universities
Country: Australia
Location: Riversleigh (Queensland), northwest of Mount Isa, Naracoorte (South Australia), southeast of Adelaide
Appointment: 1994
Meaning: one of the largest fossil sites in the world and a unique indication of the development of Australia’s special fauna

On the trail of kangaroos, koalas & Co.

Everyone loves the funny “cuddly bears” with the button eyes and the soft, gray fur, the disheveled ears and the stubborn predilection for fresh eucalyptus green. The population of koalas, cute marsupials that belong to Australia like boomerang and Sydney Opera, was endangered for many years and could only be preserved after careful study of the habits of these climbers. Not only koalas, but also other pouches and vertebrates were able to develop undisturbed for millions of years after Australia separated from the land masses of Asia. Only in “Down Under” have powerful kangaroos and possums, cat-sized climbing bags with fox-like heads, but also clumsy-looking wombats, solitary, egg-laying ant-eaters survived – and have survived for millions of years.

Riversleigh in the flat backcountry of Queensland and Naracoorte, a limestone cave system in South Australia, play a major role in piece-by-piece piecing together the puzzle of Australian evolution. Together they are among the ten most important fossil sites on our planet – and what they reveal provides enough material for generations of scientists.

Carnivorous kangaroos and marsupial lions, the Tasmanian tiger and mighty marsupials the size of a rhinoceros have all left their mark on the tertiary limestone of Riversleigh. Well-known as well as long-extinct animal beings came to light as fossil finds. Skeletons of more than 200 vertebrate animals have been discovered since the late 1980s – about five times as many as in all of Australia to date. A complete ecosystem had been preserved in the limestone – including the ancestors of long-extinct species such as gigantic horned turtles and flightless giant beetles.

The Naracoorte caves are also more exciting for paleontologists than any crime thriller. It is important to decipher the time span of 1.8 to 2 million years with a detective’s instinct. As if by a miracle, the caves of Naracoorte were open for millennia during the Quaternary Ice Age before sediments finally closed the entrance. Did gigantic game animals drag their prey here? Or did wallabies and bats, possums and snakes, lizards and horse-sized creatures with claws and elephant-like trunks live here? Question after question.

The layer of fossil treasures that contains thousands of skeletons is up to four meters thick. In Victorian times, glittering ball nights were celebrated over this undiscovered fossil treasure. Today a growing crowd is visiting the Victoria Cave, which is now under protection. Of course, tourists are strictly forbidden from hammering petrified souvenirs out of the ground. For understandable reasons, it is left to science to explore the two fossil sites that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle of geological history. Not only radiological examinations, but also the “reading” of the epochs using the stalagmite rings in the stalactite caves play a special role. The research not only sheds light on the exciting past of an adventurous continent, but also helps to develop new perspectives for the protection of the much-loved marsupials. For the Tasmanian tiger, any help came too late: the once largest marsupial on the continent has certainly become extinct.

It is imperative of the hour to learn from the past – and thus to preserve Australia’s wonderful biodiversity for future generations. After all, who doesn’t dream of seeing a koala in the wild once in a lifetime?

Riversleigh - Naracoorte fossil site (World Heritage)