Ancient rock art hints at what extinct marsupial lions may have looked like

May 28th, 2009 - 3:37 pm ICT by ANI  

Sydney, May 28 (ANI): In a new study, researchers have found ancient rock art depicting the extinct marsupial lion found in the Kimberly region of Western Australia, which hints at what the extinct beasts may have looked like, and suggests that they co-exited with early Australians.

The Marsupial Lion is an extinct species of a carnivorous marsupial mammal that lived in Australia from the early to the late Pleistocene (1,600,000-46,000 years ago).

According to a report in Cosmos magazine, researchers have now found the first convincing example of a marsupial lion in rock art to date, which suggests that early Australians and marsupial lions co-existed.

It also hints at what marsupial lions may have looked like.

Painted in red ochre, the image depicts a large four-legged animal, with a strong, prominent front limb poised for action, protruding claws and stripes running the length of its back.

The rock art “adds to our knowledge of the animal’s appearance that, without the discovery of a mummified animal, would have remained conjecture,” according to the study.

“The artist has depicted a tail with tufted tip, the ears are pointed rather than rounded and the animal is striped, rather than spotted,” it added.

Tour guide and amateur archaeologist Tim Willing found the painting while exploring rock art near the northwestern Kimberly coast in June 2008.

He took digital images of the painting and then, along with co-author Kim Akerman, published a description of them in Antiquity journal earlier this year.

Many Australian cave paintings have been found to depict the Tasmanian tiger or thylacine, which is known to have persisted on the mainland until around 2,000 year ago.

However, the newly discovered painting has several features that set it apart from others thought to depict thylacines.

The stripes of the animal in the painting are more extensive than those of a thylacine, which cover only the animal’s rear end.

The creature also appears to have cat-like claws, a feature of Thylacoleo. Furthermore, the muzzle is blunt, not long and tapered like a Tasmanian tiger’s.

“Compared with the powerful forequarters, the hindquarters appear underdeveloped,” said the researchers.

“This apparent asymmetry is not seen in rock art images of thylacines, where both hind- and forelimbs are usually of similar dimensions. However, thylacoleos were equipped with powerful claws on the hind limbs and these appear to be depicted in this image,” they added.

The discovery suggests that early Aborigines and marsupial lions were contemporaries, and may also lend weight to the idea that the arrival of people contributed to the demise of the species. (ANI)

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