naturally preserved thylacine carcass found in a cave on the Nullarbor
Plain of Western Australia in 1966. The animal's stripes are still
plainly visible. The tail, which was found separated from the body
upon discovery, was likely removed by scavenging rats. Courtesy:
Western Australian Museum.
| By far, the most spectacular
discovery yet of thylacine remains from the Nullarbor was made on the 23
October 1966 at a cave (now known as Thylacine Hole) on Mundrabilla Station,
110 km west of Eucla, Western Australia (Lowry &
Lowry 1967). An almost vertical shaft 11½
metres (37.7 ft.) deep opened into a broad cave which was littered with
the remains of native species. Innumerable animals had plummeted
down the shaft and perished, their bodies becoming naturally preserved
|the cave floor.
The cave's main chamber registered a temperature of 19°C (66.2°F)
and a relative humidity of 67%. The odour emanating from dead animals
within the cave apparently acted as a lure for carnivores, which occasionally
became trapped as well. However, their remains were far fewer in
number than those of the herbivorous species. A well preserved carcass
of a thylacine was found lying 140 metres (approx. 459 ft.) from the cave's
entrance. Most of the soft tissue had deteriorated into a thick,
tarry substance bearing a musty odour. However, the tongue and left
eye were still reasonably intact. The hair and skin were in
close-up of the head of the Mundrabilla thylacine carcass.
Courtesy: Western Australian
|a very good state of preservation, and
even the stripes were still clearly visible. Three separate radiocarbon
tests have dated the specimen to between 4600-4700 years old (Lowry
& Merrilees 1969, Merrilees 1970). However, Douglas (1986)
is of the opinion that the carcass is in fact quite recent - perhaps only
a matter of months old at the time of its discovery, and feels certain
that it has been contaminated with soluble carbonates from the flood water
that occasionally enters the cave, giving a false carbon-14 date.
Douglas further supports his argument for the specimen being recent with
the statement that "The carcass in its present condition could not exist
for more than 4000 years in a cave containing flesh-eating beetles and
subject to high humidity and flooding". Douglas
Mundrabilla thylacine carcass as it appeared when found on the floor of
Thylacine Hole cave.
||(1990) also notes
that the layer of limestone rubble on which the specimen was found was
the result of a very recent rock fall from the ceiling, and he suspects
that the carcass was probably placed on the rock pile by previous, unknown
visitors to the cave.
In 1990, a desiccated
thylacine head was found in Murra-el-elevyn Cave. There
are numerous other caves (many unexamined) on the Nullarbor
which could possibly contain similar remains.
Lastly, T. cynocephalus
material is also known from Papua New Guinea. In the course of an
archaeological expedition, the left half of a thylacine mandible was excavated
by Susan Bulmer from a rock shelter at Kiowa, in the Eastern Highlands
(Van Deusen 1963).