The Fossil Chamber:

    In time, we reached the final destination on the Victoria Fossil Cave tour - the fossil chamber.  It was this that gave the Naracoorte Caves their status as a World Heritage site.  When the cave guide turned on lights positioned around the chamber, it revealed a surface scattered with thousands of fossil bones.  Although the bones preserved here are permineralized (sub-fossilized), and often stained slightly red by the presence of iron oxide in the cave earth, some of them are still rather white and look quite recent, despite the passage of tens of thousands of years.

bone bed inside Victoria Fossil Cave
The bone bed inside Victoria Fossil Cave.  The sheer amount of fossils contained within this deposit will provide hundreds of years of excavation work for palaeontologists.  Courtesy: Sonny Vandevelde.

    Caves can preserve bones in excellent condition over very long periods of time.  In the dark silence of the fossil chamber, these remains had lain undisturbed, buried in a fine red silt for many millennia.  Through mineral action, the silt had become bonded to many of the bones as a reddish encrustation.  Some of the cave's bone-bearing deposits may be up to several hundred thousand years old.

skeleton of Thylacoleo carnifex
A cast reconstruction of the skeleton of Thylacoleo carnifex.  This model is on display in Victoria Fossil Cave.

    It was Gartrell and Wells, in 1969, who first found an extension to Victoria Cave which led to their discovery of the fossil chamber.  They were hoping to find a bone or two, but instead found something that was far beyond anyone's expectations - a natural time capsule preserving a diverse record of life in Pleistocene Australia.  Adjacent to the fossil chamber, the park has set up replica skeletons of two of the large, extinct marsupial species that have been found in the cave: Thylacoleo carnifex and Simosthenurus occidentalis (a short-faced kangaroo).

skeleton of Simosthenurus occidentalis
Simosthenurus occidentalis, a large, extinct species of leaf-eating kangaroo whose remains are prevalent in Victoria Fossil Cave.  The skull of an Eastern grey kangaroo (Macropus giganteus) is shown beside it for scale.  Sthenurids were a group of short-faced browsing kangaroos which underwent a great diversification during the Pleistocene, and several different species are represented in the cave.
maxillary fragment of Zygomaturus trilobus
A maxillary fragment (cast) of Zygomaturus trilobus bearing three perfectly preserved teeth.  This species is well known from fossils (including the specimen shown) found in Victoria Fossil Cave.  Zygomaturus is a member of a group of large, extinct grazing marsupials which were common in Australia during the Pleistocene.
Length - 95 mm.
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