Episode 32 – Naracoorte Caves, Australia

Listen to Episode 32 on PodBean, Spotify, YouTube, or that other place you get podcasts!

This episode, we dive in (not literally – we wish!) to the paleontology of Australia’s Naracoorte Caves, among the world’s best windows into the last several hundred thousand years of Australia’s history.

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The Naracoorte Caves

The Naracoorte Caves, located in South Australia, are a series of caverns that contain some of the world’s best Pleistocene fossil assemblages. The fossils range in age from over 500,000 years ago and just about up to the present day.

A photo inside Victoria Cave, one of Naracoorte’s most important fossil-producing caves. Photo by Alpha on Flickr.

The caves are a great source of information on Australia’s Pleistocene Megafauna, the large animals that dominated the continent until only tens of thousands of years ago. These big critters included the “marsupial lion” Thylacoleo, the large herbivorous diprotodontids, and several big kangaroos, not to mention the giant lizard “megalania” and the big snake Wonambi (among others).

The timeline covered by the caves includes hundreds of thousands of years of environmental change, the arrival of humans in Australia, and the extinction of those megafauna, making these caves extremely important in the study of the Pleistocene Megafaunal Extinction.

Diprotodon optatum was a hippo-sized herbivore and possibly the largest marsupial of all time. Image by Dmitry Bogdanov via Wikimedia Commons.

The caves also document the evolution of more familiar recent animals like Tasmanian devils and thylacines, as well as the history of modern Australian ecosystems. This makes the caves a key source of information for paleontologists interested in Conservation Paleontology.

The Naracoorte Caves were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 along with fossils sites from Riversleigh, Australia. This offers the fossil remains – and other scientifically-interesting features like cave geology and bat populations – a welcome level of national protection. The caves are also an extremely popular tourist attraction.

A dramatic depiction of Thylacoleo and Wonambi locked in imagined combat at the Naracoorte Fossil Centre. Photo by FunkMonk via Wikimedia Commons.

Further Reading:

This non-technical article by researchers Liz Reed and Lee Arnold is a great overview of the history of the caves with lots of great pictures.

For more photos and updates, you can also follow Dr. Liz Reed on Twitter.

Ongoing research 3D-scanning the caves was recently reported upon in the Naracoorte Herald.

Reed 2012. Of Mice and Megafauna: New insights into Naracoorte’s fossil deposits. A detailed technical review of the history of paleontology in the caves.

Lots more technical papers are listed in the various Research pages of the Naracoorte Caves website.

If you enjoyed this topic and want more like it, check out these related episodes:

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2 thoughts on “Episode 32 – Naracoorte Caves, Australia

  1. Robin Barber April 17, 2018 / 10:39 am

    Hey Guys, Sorry couldn’t find a general comment location. Anyway, I just recently discovered your podcast and I’m having a total BLAST listening to ever older podcasts (kind of like sedimentary layers). Your podcast has reignited my love for geology and paleontology that had lay dormant for many many years. My masters was in geology and my bachelors and masters projects both used radiolarians extracted from chert. Though my degree was more strictly geology, my very first class at UC Berkeley was Invertebrate Paleontology and I never lost my excitement for old beasties. My career(s) veered ever farther away from my schooling so it couldn’t make me more elated and joyful that your podcast as helped me to reconnect with the awesome and totally cool world of biology and earth sciences.

    Appreciation and Bows of Gratitude to you Both!

    Liked by 1 person

    • commondescentpc April 18, 2018 / 10:11 pm

      Hi Robin,
      This is a great comment location. You can also find us on Facebook or Twitter.

      We’re thrilled to hear that our podcast has been so inspiring for you! For us, the podcast is one of the ways we keep our own spark of science-love alive and fresh, and it’s great to hear we’re doing the same for listeners. Thanks so much for sharing.
      If you haven’t already, check out Episode 22 to get a bit of a radiolarian nostalgia fix!


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