One million year old bird bones found in Australia’s Nullarbor Plain

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Scientists believe they have found the complete fossilised skeleton of a prehistoric wedge-tailed eagle during excavations on the Nullarbor Plain. 

Dr Gavin Prideaux from Flinders University holds bones uncovered during excavations on the Nullarbor Plain [Credit: Clay Bryce/WA Museum via ABC]

The fossils were found in a cave known as Leaena’s Breath about 100 kilometres north-west of Eucla in Western Australia, just over the South Australian border. 

The excavation work is being carried out by scientists from Flinders University and the Western Australian Museum. 

The discovery was made in a pit about one metre deep. 

Palaeontologist Dr Gavin Prideaux from Flinders University says the bones are likely to belong to a wedge-tailed eagle or a closely related species. 

“We’re very confident that they’re older than 780,000 years of age and we think they might be perhaps even a million or more. That’s yet to be verified but they’re certainly in the vicinity of a million years old or so,” he said. 

“As soon as we pull [the bones] out we preserve them and wrap them up so we haven’t really got a good opportunity to study them and what we really need to do to ascertain whether it is a different species to the wedge-tailed eagle or not is get those bones back to the lab.” 

“We’re hopeful that it will in fact be a different species or perhaps even an ancestor of the modern wedge-tailed eagle,” he said. 

Dr Prideaux says the cave is ideal for the work because it has acted as a death trap for birds for at least a million years. 

He says the discovery is exciting because very little is known about the history of the wedge-tailed eagle. 

“It’s such an iconic species in Australia’s fauna. It’s the largest predatory bird and we know very little of its history. So because it’s such a brilliantly preserved specimen, perhaps a complete skeleton, it’s going to provide us with a much better appreciation of the history of that animal.” 

Author: Leah MacLennan | Source: ABC News Website [August 12, 2011]

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