The Alcoota fossil bed, located 180km northeast from Alice Springs, provides glimpse into Central Australia as it was around 8 million years ago and the megafauna that roamed there.
The fossil bed at Alcoota holds the fossilised bones of 3000 animals.
The story of how the bones came to be there is still something of a mystery. Alcoota fossils are fairly evenly spread over all life stages, which suggests they all died within a short period of time.
The animals include one of the largest birds that ever lived, the gigantic thunder bird Dromornis stirtoni, the wolf-sized Powerful Thylacine (Thylacinus potens) and the large leopard-sized Alcoota Marsupial Lion (Wakaleo alcootense).
Also found at Alcoota are fossils of the wombat-like diprotodontoids Kolopsis torus and Plaisiodon centralis, the trunked Palorchestes painei, as well as kangaroos, crocodiles, bandicoots, possums and small birds.
The Alcoota fossils are examples of megafauna, meaning ‘big animal’. In Australian palaeontology it is used to describe any species which lived during the last 10 million years and reached over 40 kg in adult weight.
Alcoota fossils are between 8 and 6 million years old.
From the fossil bed to the laboratory
Although Alcoota was first excavated in the 1960s there are still so many fossils to recover. Palaeontologists go every year to collect more specimens.
Alcoota fossils are extremely fragile. Most are retrieved through slow, patient excavation by hand.
Once the specimens have been cleaned and conserved, they are registered and stored in a scientific collection at Megafauna Central.
At Megafauna Central in Alice Springs palaeontologists study the bones they discover in the Alcoota fossil bed to piece together a picture of the animals they came from.
Are they dinosaurs?
No, most dinosaurs (except birds, which are living dinosaurs!) went extinct 66 million years ago. The Alcoota fossils are between 8 and 6 million years old.
Like dinosaurs, most Australian megafauna is now extinct.