Australian Fossil Mammal Sites

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Riversleigh, in the north-west of Queensland, is Australia's most famous fossil site. The 100 km² area has fossil remains of ancient mammals, birds and reptiles of Oligocene and Miocene age.

Australian Fossil Mammal Sites
Australian Fossil Mammal Sites

Australia is regarded as the most biologically distinctive continent in the world, an outcome of its almost total isolation for 35 million years following separation from Antarctica. Only two of its seven orders of singularly distinctive marsupial mammals have ever been recorded elsewhere. Two of the world's most important fossil sites, Riversleigh and Naracoorte, located in the north and south of Australia respectively, provide a superb fossil record of the evolution of this exceptional mammal fauna.

Australian Fossil Mammal Sites
Australian Fossil Mammal Sites

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. This globally significant fossil record provides a picture of the key stages of evolution of Australia's mammals, illustrating their response to climate change and to human impacts.

Australian Fossil Mammal Sites
Australian Fossil Mammal Sites

Fossils were first noted to exist in the area in 1901. An initial exploration survey was conducted in 1963. Since 1976 the area has been the subject of systemic exploration. The site was inscribed as a World Heritage site in 1994 and is an extension of the Boodjamulla National Park.

Australian Fossil Mammal Sites
Australian Fossil Mammal Sites

Fossils at Riversleigh 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. Some of the fossils at Riversleigh are 25 million years old. High concentrations of calcium carbonate has meant the fossils are extremely well preserved. The fossil collection reveals mammalian evolution across a time span of more than 20 million years. There are more than 200 individual locations where fossils have been found.

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