Diprotodon Dig unearths skeletons of giant wombat-like marsupials

19 Oct 2023

A Western Australian Museum palaeontology team is recovering several rare and nearly complete Diprotodon skeletons at Du Boulay Creek, 100km south-west of Karratha.

Diprotodons are extinct marsupials, related to koalas and wombats. They are the largest marsupials that ever lived, weighing up to 2,800kg.

The fossil site lies within the Fortescue River floodplain. Diprotodon fossils were first recovered from the site in 1991; one of these is now on display at the WA Museum Boola Bardip.

The fossil site is unique in that several individuals are located close to each other. While further research is required, it appears that both adult and juvenile skeletons are present, suggesting the site may have been on a major migration route. The skeletons are currently partly visible, including sections of skulls, jaws and teeth, and embedded in hard rock. They are at risk of heavy abrasion from flooding, so excavation is critical to preserve them.

Once the fossils have been transported to Perth, the skeletons will form part of the WA Museum collection, and experts will work on the skeletons to build a greater understanding of Diprotodon biology and behaviour.

Alec Coles OBE, CEO of the Western Australian Museum, commented “Research and fieldwork is at the core of the Western Australian Museum’s work and contributes to our knowledge of biodiversity, geodiversity and the environment of Western Australia.”

“The new fossil discoveries have without a doubt confirmed the Du Boulay Creek site as being of major scientific significance in terms of ancient Australian megafauna.”

The excavation work was enabled by a partnership between the WA Museum, the Foundation for the WA Museum, and nearby minesite operator CITIC Pacific Mining, who provided logistical and financial support, and conducted in consultation with Traditional Owners.

The Foundation for the WA Museum CEO Coralie Bishop said CITIC Pacific Mining and the Museum already enjoyed a positive relationship, with the company hosting researchers at its Cape Preston operation several times during the past 18 months.

“CITIC Pacific Mining has already proven to be a committed, enthusiastic partner. We are extremely grateful to CPM for being the Museum’s partner ‘on the ground’ in the Pilbara, supporting fieldwork with invaluable practical and financial support.

“CITIC Pacific Mining’s support is enabling a fieldtrip that isn’t only important for the local community in which CITIC Pacific Mining operates, but for Western Australia and the scientific community as a whole.”

CITIC Pacific Mining General Manager, Sustainability and Environment Bruce Watson said the Cape Preston area (where the Sino Iron magnetite project is located) had a rich and diverse ecosystem and a Traditional Owner connection which goes back tens of thousands of years.

“This a very special part of the world and we are excited to support the WA Museum so that we can continue to build upon our knowledge of the natural environment for the benefit of the wider community,” Mr Watson said.

“We’re pleased to be partnering with the Museum on this important field work.”

About CITIC Pacific Mining

CITIC Pacific Mining’s Sino Iron operation is located near Cape Preston in Western Australia, 100km south of Karratha. It’s here that magnetite iron ore is mined and then processed into high-quality Cape Preston Concentrate that is exported from a nearby purpose-built port. For more information, please visit www.citicpacificmining.com