Until 1,000 years ago giant rats roamed East Timor, as suggested by a new fossil treasure trove unearthed by Australian National University researchers.
Looking for traces of human migration patterns in Southeast Asia, researchers with the Australian National University unearthed an impressive collection of fossilized bones. All of them belong to what is perhaps the most dreaded species of rodents: rats. After thorough analysis the research team concluded that the bounty is formed from fossilized bones belonging to seven giant rat species.
One of the giant rat species would have been ten times larger than the rats we know today. For the sake of picturing the size of the ancient rodent, a modern day rat weighs on average a little over one pound. An eleven-pound rat sneaking past the sewers nowadays would cause a commotion.
At the time they roamed East Timor, the giant rat species were in fact a nutritious food source for our ancestors. Part of the mega-fauna, according to Julien Louys who is one of the researchers involved in the study, the largest of the new giant rat species would have been about the size of a small pet dog.
It is unclear how these rodents evolved. Perhaps with more space in the evolutionary scale and the extinction of large animals and predators, the herbivore giant rats were left to evolve to larger sizes. Until 1,000 years ago giants rats roamed East Timor. This finding is motivating the research team in understanding the ecological impact of humans even at the time.
Thus, in addition to studying migration patterns across Southeast Asia, the research team is looking forward to unearthing more treasure troves such as this one. It would help them create a broader picture of the biodiversity of Southeast Asia islands and the role of humans.
In East Timor, the newly discovered seven giant rat species lived with humans for thousands of years. Here, the first recorded human presence is believed to have been 46,000 years ago. For successive generations, the giant rats were a hearty meal.
According to Louys, the fossilized bones presented cuts and burn marks that can only be inflicted by early inhabitants of the region. However, it wasn’t until 1,000 years ago that the giant rat species went extinct.
Researchers believe that with the introduction of metal tools in early human communities of East Timor, the habitat of the giant rats would have been decimated. Forced to retreat to inhospitable environments, the giant rats slowly went extinct.
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