Early Australians Might Have Shared the Continent With Giant Killer Lizards

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On a recent dig in the Central Queensland region of Australia, scientists uncovered something totally unexpected: a fossilized fragment from a giant lizard.

While scientists have long known that giant lizards once roamed the Australian continent, this particular fossil was special. Using radiocarbon and uranium thorium dating techniques, researchers were able to determine that the bone fragment was around 50,000 years old, making it the youngest giant lizard fossil ever discovered.

The tiny fossil was a one-centimeter osteoderm bone, which would have been positioned just under the lizard’s skin, reinforcing the strength of its scales.

According to paleoecologist Dr. Gilbert Price, the lizard would have walked the earth around the same time early humans were migrating to Australia—meaning humans and giant lizards may have, at one point, shared the continent.

Price told Science Daily, “We can't tell if the bone is from a Komodo dragon—which once roamed Australia—or an even bigger species like the extinct Megalania monitor lizard, which weighed about 500kg and grew up to six meters long.” 

Either way, it’s pretty terrifying to imagine early humans having to contend with the giant predatory animals.

The research also raises new questions about what led to the animal’s extinction. Smithsonian explains that many scientists believe climate change led to the extinction of megafauna like giant lizards. But, according to Price, the discovery of the new fossil means that "humans can only now be considered as potential drivers of their extinction."

[h/t: Science Daily]