Diprotodons

dippy1The Diprotodons Return to Burra!!

Background

The fossilised remains of extinct marsupials were first reported from a dam site at Bundey and along the Baldina Creek in 1889. Amandus Zeitz of the SA Museum visited the area and collected a partial skeleton of Diprotodon australis from Baldina Creek which, at the time, was the most complete specimen known from South Australia predating the finds at Lake Callabonna. They also collected the fossilised remains of the giant 'emu' Genyornis, the marsupial 'lion' Thylacoleo, and the Tasmanian Devil Sarcophilus from Bundey.

dippymapThe Baldina and Burra Creek fossils occur in fine grained siltstones and mudstones. Bones excavated from below the weathered surface sediments are well preserved. The site takes on added significance in that the specimens so far unearthed have been articulated or very closely associated. This implies limited transport and rapid burial following death, accordingly a direct association with any climate proxy record embodied in the encapsulating sediments. These sites are thus suitable for application of multiple dating techniques and isotope fractionation studies, viz. electron spin resonance, optically stimulated luminescence, carbon 14, along with carbon and nitrogen isotopic analyses. In other words there is the potential  to place these fossils in both time and environment.

Dating of fossil bearing sediments from Burra Creek by John Prescott of the University of Adelaide suggested ages in the range 40-44ka. Regardless of which dates one accepts, it would appear that the sites fall within the span of human occupation of Australia and are thus of considerable interest to researchers investigating megafaunal extinctions. Today we know of seven fossil yielding localities in the region to the east of Burra.

Professor Rod Wells and Rainer Grun revisited the Burra sites in 2001. During their visit they met an amateur naturalist, Mr. Robert Heading of Mongalata. Mr Heading alerted them to further fossil localities in the Redbanks area along Baldina Creek. Subsequent prospecting further downstream revealed many small outcrops of weathered bone and fragments of  the distinctive Diprotodon tooth enamel leading ultimately to the discovery of articulated skeletal remains of Diprotodon and a Tasmanian tiger.

Bones excavated from below the weathered surface sediments are well preserved. Partially articulated specimens of Diprotodon from the Burra sites including the ribs from two individuals and complete skull and jaws.

 

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Photographs reproduced by kind permission of Professor Rod Well, Flinders University.

 

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Diprotodon Facts

  • The Diprotodon was the world's largest marsupial.
  • It suckled its young from a pouch similar to a wombat.
  • The Diprotodon is so named for its two large tusk-like lower incisors  ( di = two; proto = front; dont = tooth).
  • Diprotodons weighed between 1.00 - 2.00 tonnes.
  • Diprotodons were flat-footed and walked like a wombat.   Their gait has been determined from fossil trackways at Lake Callabonna and these trackways suggest an animal that could move at about 5 km/hr and range around 15 to 20 kms in a day.
  • Their huge double ridged cheek teeth were ideally suited to dicing and grinding coarse tough forage.
  • Pollens extracted from the gut cavities of Diprotodons that mired in the soft muds of Lake Callabonna suggest a diet of woody shrubs similar to the vegetation still found in semi-arid and arid regions today.
  • Differences in head shape may be sex related, large males and smaller females. Such sexual dimorphism is common in herd animals. Large males control a harem of smaller females and young.
  • The last Diprotodons died out around 50 thousand years ago, possibly as a result of vegetation change. Current research implicates human burning of the vegetation as the cause.

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What is happening at Redbanks Conservation Park?

Interpretive Walking Trail

The Department for Environment and Heritage is creating a 4 kilometre  loop walking trail through Redbanks Conservation Park, and installing seven interpretive signs. These signs reflect not only the mega fauna discoveries, but also the environmental aspects, fauna and flora and conservation messages. Residents and visitors alike will be able to walk the trail from July 2006.

Open Days

A program is currently being put together of Open Days with guided tours of Redbanks conducted by experts who will be able to explain all elements of the Park.

School Visits

Schools within the Goyder region will be invited to participate in excursions to Redbanks.

What is happening around Burra?

There is an impressive display of Diprotodon fossils in the foyer of the Regional Council of Goyder office in Burra. The office is open Monday to Friday 9.00am to 5.00pm and everyone is welcome to come in and see the display which was funded by the South Australian Museum and curated by Professor Rod Wells and staff from Flinders University.

As the first stage of tourism development centred around the mega fauna discoveries at Redbanks, the Burra Visitor Centre is currently working on a Diprotodon awareness campaign. Activities to date include:

  • Well regarded artist George Aldridge has been commissioned to design cartoons for posters and postcards for marketing the Diprotodon image.
  • Local artist Leo Sturman is creating a life sized Diprotodon to be placed in Market Square.
  • Posters are appearing in local businesses throughout the region.
  •  www.visitburra.com now has a page dedicated to the Diprotodon discoveries.
  •  Businesses are adopting the Diprotodon and incorporating it into their product.

What is in Store for the Future ?

The Burra Visitor Centre and the Department for Environment and Heritage, with the assistance of the Regional Council of Goyder, are also looking at future strategies for showcasing our mega fauna and related heritage, including :

  • Incorporation of indigenous interpretation at  Redbanks.
  • Incorporation of pastoral interpretation at Redbanks.
  • Offering guided tours of the area to coach companies.
  • Offering locals and visitors an opportunity to participate in archaeological digs.
  • The preparation of a brochure for Redbanks.
For more information please contact :

 Burra Visitor Centre
 2 Market Square, Burra
 Tel : 08 8892 2154
 burravisitorcentre@bigpond.com  

 Deparment for Environment and Heritage
 (Burra Office)

Tel : 08 8892 3025

 

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