Giant wombat fossil discovered

Melbourne: Palaeontologists in Australia have discovered what they claim is a near-complete skeleton of the prehistoric giant marsupial, said to be the largest that ever lived on Earth.

About the size of a rhinoceros, Diprotodon optatum weighed as much as three tonnes, stood nearly 2 metres tall at the shoulder and was 3.5 metres long, says a Australian team which has made the discovery in Queensland.

It is one of the best preserved and most complete skeletons of Diprotodon ever found and is the most northerly specimen known, according to the palaeontologists from the University of New South Wales and University of Queensland.

An arm bone of the giant marsupial was first found at the site, on Floraville Station, late in the field season of 2010. The team recently returned to excavate the skull, jaws and rest of the skeleton.

Diprotodon, which is distantly related to wombats, was the last surviving species of its family. It was the first prehistoric beast discovered in Australia and is one of the most recognised members of the Australian megafauna. Diprotodon lived in mobs right across the Australian mainland until it became extinct sometime during the past 50,000 years, says the team.

What caused the extinction of Diprotodon and other members of the Australian megafauna is hotly debated. Overkill by humans and climate change have both been blamed.