Researchers discover giant rat fossils in East Timor

Australian National University researchers have announced the discovery of giant rat fossils in East Timor, one of which is 10 times the size of an ordinary modern-day rat. Not much is known about the giant rats at this time, though researchers say the bones indicate humans ate these creatures via the presence of burn and cutting marks. The discovery was presented at the Meetings of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

The image above shows, on the left, a jawbone from one of the now-extinct giant rats in comparison to a regular rat's jawbone, shown on the right. A total of seven giant rat species were discovered via the fossils, all in East Timor.

The project is being led, in part, by Dr. Julien Louys, who is part of the university's School of Culture, History and Language. Said Louys, "[The rats] are what you would call mega-fauna. The biggest one is about five kilos, the size of a small dog. Just to put that in perspective, a large modern rat would be about half a kilo."

At this point, researchers are probing the cause of the rats' extinction. The earliest humans in the region lived alongside these creatures, and would have for thousands of years, according to the researchers. At this point, it is thought the cohabitation of sorts lasted all the way up until about 1,000 years ago, when the advent of metal tools in the region made it possible for humans to clear out forests at a clipped rat.

SOURCE: Australian National University