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Massive Rats! Fossil Rat Species Recently Unearthed In Asia

Nov 06, 2015 05:04 PM EST
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Could you imagine living alongside rats ten times larger than those we are familiar with today? It turns out our early ancestors were quite accustomed to this, according to archaeologists from the Australian National University (ANU).

In a recent study, scientists reveal new information regarding seven new giant rat fossil species found on East Timor, Asia. These specimens represent the largest known rats to have ever existed, according to a news release.

"They are what you would call mega-fauna. The biggest one is about five kilos, the size of a small dog," Dr. Julien Louys, one of the study researchers from the ANU School of Culture, History and Language, explained in the release. "Just to put that in perspective, a large modern rat would be about half a kilo."

Since the earliest record of human existence on East Timor dates roughly 46,000 years ago, researchers concluded that many of our ancestors lived alongside these giant rats for thousands of years. Cut and burn marks on the rat fossil bones also indicate early humans were hunting and eating the giant animals.

"The funny thing is that they are co-existing up until about a thousand years ago. The reason we think they became extinct is because that was when metal tools started to be introduced in Timor, people could start to clear forests at a much larger scale," Dr. Louys added in the release.

This finding may help researchers better understand the path early humans took as they first traveled through the islands of Southeast Asia.

"We're trying to find the earliest human records as well as what was there before humans arrived," Dr. Louys said in the release. "Once we know what was there before humans got there, we see what type of impact they had."

That said, researchers are still unsure what exactly caused the rats' extinction.  

Their findings were recently presented at the Meetings of the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology in Texas.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

-Follow Samantha on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13

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