Argentinian megafauna

30 August, 2009

Megalania prisca, the giant Goanna
Megalania prisca, the giant Goanna
Image: Michelle MacFarlane
Source: Museum Victoria

Question: I live in Argentina and I found these bones embedded in the river bank of the Carcarana River near the town Pueblo Andino – can you tell me what they are? Could they be dinosaur bones?

Answer: Given the size of these bones, it is understandable that you might think they belonged to a dinosaur – actually, they are not dinosaur bones, rather they are mammalian bones of Pleistocene age (1.8 million – approximately 25 thousand years old). They are in fact the Argentinian equivalent of Australian megafauna.

One of the specimens is the back of the skull of a carnivore – possibly a big cat. The bone is the back of  the skull of Smilodon (of unknown species), the Sabre-tooth tiger.

Another specimen is the lower part of a femur (thigh bone) of a large plant eater – possibly a giant camel. There is also a shaft of a humerus (lower arm bone) with missing epiphyses (ends), possibly of Camelpos, an extinct camel.

Your final specimen is most likely the lower end of the femur (thigh bone) of Megatherium, the giant ground sloth.

All of these specimens are of Pleistocene age, which means that they are approximately 1.8 million to 25 thousand years old.

Museum Victoria, however, specialises in the palaeontology of Australian, specifically Victorian, dinosaurs and megafauna. Three examples of Australian megafauna are on display in the Dinosaur Walk exhibition in the Science & Life Gallery at Melbourne Museum: Diprotodon optatum (a giant marsupial), Varanus (Megalania) priscus (an extinct giant lizard), and Genyornis newtoni (a giant ‘thunder bird’).

Museum Victoria has also recently published a new book entitled Prehistoric Giants: The Megafauna of Australia by Danielle Clode.

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