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UNESCO World Heritage Site #263 – Australian Fossil Mammal Sites

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UNESCO World Heritage Site #263 - Australian Fossil Mammal Sites

UNESCO World Heritage Site #263 – Australian Fossil Mammal Sites

From the World Heritage inscription:

Australia is regarded as the most biologically distinctive continent in the world, an outcome of its almost total isolation for 35 million years following separation from Antarctica. Only two of its seven orders of singularly distinctive marsupial mammals have ever been recorded elsewhere. Two of the world’s most important fossil sites, Riversleigh and Naracoorte, located in the north and south of Australia respectively, provide a superb fossil record of the evolution of this exceptional mammal fauna. This serial property provides outstanding, and in many cases unique, examples of mammal assemblages during the last 30 million years.

The older fossils occur at Riversleigh, which boasts an outstanding collection from the Oligocene to Miocene, some 10-30 million years ago. The more recent story then moves to Naracoorte, where one of the richest deposits of vertebrate fossils from the glacial periods of the mid-Pleistocene to the current day (from 530,000 years ago to the present) is conserved. This globally significant fossil record provides a picture of the key stages of evolution of Australia’s mammals, illustrating their response to climate change and to human impacts.

This site is a serial site divided between Naracoorte Caves National Park in South Australia and the Riversleigh fossil site in Queensland. I visited the Naracoorte site, which is the more accessible of the two. It is located roughly between Adelaide and Melbourne in rural South Australia.

I have been to several paleontology/archeology sites during my travels and they usually share one thing in common: there isn’t much to see. The sites are significant because of what they found in the ground, but those things have long since been dug up and placed in museums. Some sites like the Sangiran Early Man site in Indonesia were very disappointing. Others, like the Messel Pit Fossil Site in Germany, at least provide a decent visitor center where you can learn about the discoveries which took place at the location.

Naracoorte is the only fossil site I have ever visited where you can still clearly see in situ fossils in the ground! The Naracoorte caves basically served as a giant pit trap for animals for hundreds of thousands of years. Over that time animal bones piled up in such numbers that researchers haven’t found it necessary to dig up everything.

The visitor center in Naracoorte is also very good with recreations of the animals they found in the caves. If you ever wanted to know what a giant, meat eating koala looked like, then you need to pay a visit.

View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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