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Australian Fossil Mammal Sites

The Australian Fossil Mammal Sites Riversleigh and the Naracoorte are Australia's most renowned fossil sites. They are a superb illustration of the key stages of the isolated evolution of Australia's unique fauna.

Riversleigh is located in in North West Queensland and has fossil remains of ancient mammals, birds and reptiles of Oligocene and Miocene age. Fossils are found in limestone by lime-rich freshwater pools, and in caves, when the ecosystem was evolving from rich rainforest to semi-arid grassland community. Thirty-five fossil bat species have been identified at the site, which is the richest in the world. The skull and nearly complete dentition of a fifteen million-year-old monotreme, Obdurodon dicksoni, provide a window into the evolution of this characteristically Australian group. Fossil ancestors of the recently extinct Thylacinus cynocephalus, the marsupial "Tasmanian Tiger", have also been identified among Riversleigh's fauna.

The Naracoorte Caves are located in the south-east of South Australia. The limestone of the area was formed from coral and marine creatures 200 million years ago and again 20 million years ago when the land was below sea level. Ground water since then has dissolved and eroded some of the limestone, creating the caves. The caves are often not far below ground, and holes open up creating traps for the unwary. This is the source of the remarkable collection of fossils. Mammals and other land creatures have fallen into open caves and been unable to escape. The fossil record has been preserved in strata formed from eroded topsoil washed and blown in. In some places, the fossil-bearing silt is up to 20 metres thick.

Originally a third fossil site, Murgon, was part of this serial nomination. It was rated of a lesser quality than the other two, and omitted from the definitive nomination.

Map

Visit April 2011

I visited the southern half of this serial nomination: Naracoorte Caves. It is located 10km south of the town of Naracoorte, some 5 hours drive from Melbourne. Quite a remote location – but it does see its fair share of visitors. There were about 40 other cars in the parking lot when I arrived there on a weekday afternoon. Be aware: the caves are located in the state of South Australia, which has a half an hour time difference with eastern states like Victoria (it’s half an hour earlier here than in Melbourne).

Visits to the most interesting caves are by guided tours only. They conduct several of them during the day. Most popular is the Bat tour, where you can watch the large bat population. However, I had arrived just in time to join the Fossil tour. This takes you into Victoria Fossil Cave, the one cave that has earned Naracoorte its WH status.

This Cave is 1.5 kms away from the Visitor Centre. It’s a limestone cave of about 500,000 years old. It has a variety of dripstone features, and it holds the first fossil bed found at Naracoorte. Later on they have discovered more of them, in other caves too. The animals got trapped in here after they had fallen through holes in the surface. The fossil bed is as big as an Olympic swimming pool. It still has a lot of bones in it. The skeletons of two of the most impressive species found here have been put together. One is from a Tasmanian Tiger, the other from a planteating kangooroo.

After the tour I went back to visit the Wonambi Fossil Centre at the entrance of the park. Here they have “reconstructed” some of the larger mammals into complete and moving beasts. It’s all a bit childish. It does however give you a good look at the largest mammal found here: the buffalo-like Diprotodon.

Community Reviews


John Booth - February 2015

Some of the Premier Stateliner buses travelling between Adelaide and Mount Gambier stop at the township of Naracoorte. Others travel along the coast. The caves are some 14 kms distant from the township, but I managed to enlist the assistance of the Visitor Information office to arrange transport.

My visit coincided with tours of the Alexandra Cave, as well as the Wonambi cave full of mock-ups of prehistoric animals based on the skeletons found at the site.


Thomas Buechler - October 2014

When driving from Southern Australia's capital Adelaide direction the Great Ocean Road, the Naracoorte Caves are only a small detour, but surely worth the gazoline.It puts you back into times half a million years ago;you can visit the various caves on guided tours that leave on certain times during the day.Its all on their website.We opted for the Victoria Fossil Cave and were not disappointed.Not only were there beautiful rock formations, stalacmites etc., but our guide/palaeontologist was very knowledgeable.

We were told that inside the caves tens of thousand of specimens representing about 93 vertebrate animals have been collected.Ranging from the Tasmanian Devil to wallabies, extinct mammals and even turtles.

Most of them fell down into holes of the cave's ceilings and could not escape.It is Australia's largest fossil deposit in terms of volume in a single site.


Emilia Bautista King - February 2006

I visited Naracoorte in 2002. The stalagmites and stalagtites were so spectacular and delicate. I enjoyed learning about prehistoric animals such as the Short Faced Leaf Eating kangaroo!


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Site Info

Full name: Australian Fossil Mammal Sites (Riversleigh/Naracoorte)

Site History

Locations

The site has 2 locations.

  • 'Naracoorte South Australia, Australia
  • 'Riversleigh Queensland, Australia

Connections

The site has 5 connections.

Ecology

  • Dripstone Naracoorte Caves has a great variety
  • Fossils These fossil deposits are outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life. (OUV, crit viii, ix)

Timeline

  • Middle Pleistocene The older fossils occur at Riversleigh, which boasts an outstanding collection from the Oligocene to Miocene, some 10-30 million years ago. The more recent story then moves to Naracoorte, where one of the richest deposits of vertebrate fossils from the glacial periods of the mid-Pleistocene to the current day (from 530,000 years ago to the present) is conserved. (Nom file)
  • Oligocene The older fossils occur at Riversleigh, which boasts an outstanding collection from the Oligocene to Miocene, some 10-30 million years ago. The more recent story then moves to Naracoorte, where one of the richest deposits of vertebrate fossils from the glacial periods of the mid-Pleistocene to the current day (from 530,000 years ago to the present) is conserved. (Nom file)

Trivia