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A catalogue of fossil sites containing the thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus)

The putative extinction of the thylacine (or Tasmanian tiger) means that no further historical specimens are likely to be available to science, with the obvious exception of the potential for newly discovered specimens1. Unless the species is rediscovered, or cloning is both a) successful and b) produces animals that are not taxonomically distinct from the Tasmanian type population. Both of which are extremely unlikely. On the other hand fossil and subfossil material is both abundant and still waiting to be collected. Moreover, favourable preservation conditions mean that further soft tissue specimens potentially await discovery. At present at least three such specimens have been discovered. The first being a small patch of dried skin attached to the humerus and clavicle of a mostly complete skeleton found in Murra-El-Elevyn Cave in December 1963 or January 1964 by Mr N. Campbell (Partridge, 1967). The second being a complete mummified animal ("Old Hairy") found on 23 October 1966 by Jacky and David Lowry in what would later be known as Thylacine Hole (Lowry & Lowry, 1967). Lastly, a mummified head was found in Murra-El-Elevyn Cave in 1990, the site of the first discovery of dried thylacine tissue.

Collection bias is certainly evident in the known fossil sites that contain thylacine remains, even though all mainland Australian states and territories are represented. Most fossil sites are from the southern half of the continent. This may or may not impact the species' inferred extinction chronology, as there is the potential for northern Australia to have acted as a refugium for the species. Where it may have survived far longer than in areas which have radiocarbon dates associated with them. Future infrastructure may make it logistically and economically more viable to carry out palaeontological excavations in relatively harsh and isolated environs that have so far contributed little to our understanding of the species' prehistoric trends.

While the northern Australian thylacine population is relatively little known, the situation in New Guinea is even less understood. A handful of reports of Thylacinus remains have been made in the literature since the first in 1963 (van Deusen, 1963). Most of these are in obscure, hard to find or otherwise virtually inaccessible publications. As a result the current cataloguing effort is virtually reduced to merely listing references to New Guinea thylacines, as I have never attended university and thus do not have access to many of the research avenues open to scientists.

 

1 The most recent such find is a remarkably well preserved skin exported to New Zealand and lain unrecognized for decades. It has now been purchased by the National Museum of Australia (press release).

 

Australian Captial Territory

 

New Guinea

 

Kiowa Rock Shelter

van Deusen, 1963; Bulmer, 1964

 

New South Wales

 

Lake Menindee

Woodburne, 1967

 

 

Wellington Caves

Specimens: BMNH Geol. M/10800, BMNH Geol. M/10801 (type specimens of T. spelaeus)

References: Ride, 1964

 

 

Northern Territory

 

Queensland

 

Ellangowan

Specimens: QM F.730 (type specimen of T. rostralis)

References: Ride, 1964

 

Gowrie Creek

Specimens: BMNH 35973 (previously attributed to T. rostralis?)

References: Ride, 1964

 

King's Creek, Clifton

Specimens: QM F.3742 (previously attributed to T. rostralis?)

References: Ride, 1964

 

 

South Australia

 

Black’s Point Sinkhole, Venus Bay

Age: 3254–2925 cal. BP (McDowell, 1997)

References: McDowell, 1997

 

 

Kangaroo Island

135.4 ± 5.9 kya (Boar Beach locality), fossilized footprints [Camens et al., 2017]
≥ 28.2±2.7 kya (Rocky River homestead locality), osteological specimen [Wells et al., 2006]
14.25-13.8 kya (Kelly Hill Cave K1-P2 L7E locality), osteological specimen [Adams et al., 2016]

 

 

Tasmania

 

Central Highlands

 

Warragarra rockshelter

McWilliams et al. (1999)

 

 

Cave system near Lune River:

Anonymous. (1985). Tasmanian Tiger bones 'fully protected'. The Canberra Times, Friday, 14 June, p. 6.

 

Bass Strait islands

Cave Bay Cave

Specimens: a single thylacine molar tooth

Age: dated to roughly 15,400 BP (Bowdler, 1984)

Notes: As far as I am aware, this single tooth is the only record, prehistoric or modern, of the thylacine on the Bass Strait islands

References: Bowdler, 1984

 

 

 

Victoria

 

McEachern's Cave

Wakefield, 1967

 

 

Western Australia

 

 

Barrow Island

https://www.news.uwa.edu.au/2019091711614/archaeology/sharing-archaeological-insights-barrow-inslands-workforce

 

 

Avon Region

 

Eucla Division

 

Capstan Cave (N50)

Specimens: WAM 67.11.37

References: Lowry, 1972

 

Horseshoe Cave

Archer, 1972?; Archer, 1974: WAM 72.1.512; WAM 72.1.307

 

Murra-El-Elevyn Cave (N47)1

Specimens: WAM 64.8.1 (soft tissue present around humerus and clavicle), mummified head discovered in 1990 [citation?]

Age: WAM 64.8.1 (3,280 ± 90 yBP (Partridge, 1967))

Notes: 1 Formerly known as Cocklebiddy Three Mile Cave

References: Gasking, 1965; Partridge, 1967

 

Roaches Rest Cave (N58)

Specimens: WAM 67.3.21 (Juvenile)

Age: no dating seems to have occurred.

References: Lowry, 1972

 

Thylacine Hole (N63)

Specimens: WAM F6353 (nearly complete skeleton), F6354 (nearly complete skeleton), F6355 (nearly complete skeleton), F6356 (partial skeleton, lacks teeth), F6357 (old animal; nearly complete skeleton), F6358 (juvenile; nearly complete skeleton), F63601 (pelvis and part of vertebral column only), F6364 (mummified carcass) (see Lowry, 1972).

Age: WAM F6364 (4,650 ± 104 yBP, 4,550 ± 112, 4,650 ± 153 yBP; all (Lowry & Merrilees, 1969))

A mummified dingo found roughly 200 feet closer to the entrace was dated at 2,200 ± 96 yBP (Lowry & Merrilees, 1969). A rabbit carcass was subsequently dated at 180 ± 76 yBP as a "check" on the two previously mentioned dated specimens (Merrilees, 1970).

Vegetation: see (Ingram, 1969)

Comments: All individuals appear to have fallen about 12 metres to the cave floor, although only one individual (F6355) has broken bones, possibly postmortem injuries.

Notes: 1 Disturbed by water wash (Lowry, 1972), which might explain paucity of remains.

References: Lowry & Lowry, 1967; Lowry & Merrilees, 1969; Merrilees, 1970; Lowry, 1972

 

Webbs Cave (N132)

Specimens: WAM 70.7.52 (Cook, 1963)

Comments: Found in a Tasmanian devil coprolite

References: Cook, 1963,1966; Lowry, 1972

 

Kimberley Division

Tunnel Creek Cave

Archer, 1974: WA 71.12.119 (proximal end, humerus)

 

 

Northern Agricultural Region

Geographical extent

"The NAR runs from Gingin in the south to Kalbarri in the north, east to Mullewa, Perenjori and Kalannie along the Local Government Area (LGA) boundaries." (source)

 

Fossil sites

Caladenia Cave

"Three specimens of Thylacinus cynocephalus were recovered from the excavation, each at different depths. The chronologically youngest specimen, a right metatarsal III of Thylacinus cynocephalus (WA Museum vertebrate palaeontological collection catalogue number 13.11.364) has an associated charcoal age of 3254–2925 cal. BP. All Thylacinus specimens were originally identifed by Merrilees and confirmed by Thorn with Museum comparative material." (Thorn et al., 2017)

 

Mystery Cave (J-6)

"Thylacine bones {(Thylacinus cynocephalus; 2 individual) jaw found; P. Adamson, August 1986 [L. Hatcher, 1986] & remaining skeleton plus second incomplete skeleton; M. Simpson & L. Hatcher, October 1986 [L. Hatcher, conf.; A. Baynes]} have been recorded from this cave (Hatcher, Unpublished records)." (Susac, 2007:26)

 

Pretty Cave (SH-9)

Remains discovered by R. Howlett on 19-23 February, 1961 (Bridge, 1963a).

 

Wedges Cave (SH-14)

Molar (Bridge, 1963a)

 

Yellabidde Cave (E-30)

(Monks, 2016; Monks et al., 2016; Monks, 2018)

"Four Thylacinus specimens were identified, including one adult molar and molars from two young  juveniles (one of which was probably pouch young), all in sediments dating to >5,000 years BP. The presence of the remains of juvenile as well as adult thylacinesin the site suggests that Yellabidde Cave was occasionally used as a den site." (p. 154)

"Thylacine cranial and dental material was recovered from YC...and included edentulous dentary fragments and isolated molars, including one apparently unerupted molar (M1) cap from a juvenile animal, possibly pouch young." (p. 280)

(both quotes: Monks, 2018)

 

Unknown cave (near Stockyard Cave (E-3))

Bones found by Harry Butler (Bridge, 1963b).

 

Need to find relevant caves

Specimens: WAM 61.2.19-23; WAM 63.7.7 (both mentioned by Lowry, 1972)

 

Perth Region

Murray Cave1 (Yn52)

(Murray, 1998)

Archer, 1974: WA 72.1.1148

1 Formerly Murray's Cave (Murray, 1998). See (Archer, 1974) for emandation.

 

Unknown cave (now destroyed) (near Lake Neerabup)

"And in this, at the base of this solution pipe we found a Thylacine skull laying on the surface outside. So it obviously had been in that cave before they destroyed the cave." (Murray, 1998)

 

 

Pilbara Region

 

 

South West Corner

I take this to encompass Mandurah in the north, southeast to Albany. An idiosyncratic but useful delineation.

 

Jewel Cave

At least one skeleton, plus footprints (source)

 

Mammoth Cave

Specimens: WAM 61.2.26, 61.2.27, 61.2.28 (Lowry, 1972)

References: Lundelius, 1960, Merrilees, 1968, Lowry, 1972

 

Yallingup Cave

 

References

Archer, Michael "Mike". (1972). Nullarbor 1969. Western Caver 12: 17-24.

Archer, Michael "Mike". (1974). New information about the Quaternary distribution of the Thylacine (Marsupialia: Thylacinidae) in Australia. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia 57(2): 43-50.

Bartholomai, A. (1977). The fossil vertebrate fauna from Pleistocene deposits at Cement Mills, Gove, southeastern Queensland. Mem. Qld. Mus. 18: 69-73.

Bridge, Peter. (1963a). Trip report. The Western Caver 3(1): 2-3.

Bridge, Peter. (1963b). Trip report. The Western Caver 3(2): 23, 26.

Bowdler, Sandra. (1984). Hunter Hill, Hunter Island. Terra Australis 8: xv + 148 pp.

Bulmer, Susan E. (1964). Radio Carbon dates from New Guinea. Journal of the Polynesian Society 73(3): 327-328.

Camens, Aaron B., Carey, Stephen P. and Arnold, Lee J. (2017). Vertebrate trace fossils from the Late Pleistocene of Kangaroo Island, South Australia. Ichnos: A Journal for Plant and Animal Traces. https://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10420940.2017.1337633 [Abstract]

Cook, D. L. (1963). Thylacinus and Sarcophilus from the Nullabor Plain. Western Australian Naturalist 9(2): 47-48.

Cook, D. L. (1966). Tasmanian Tiger's Haunts (Mail Bag). Walkabout 32(3): 6.

Dawson, Lyndall. (1982). Taxonomic status of fossil thylacines (Thylacinus, Thylacinidae, Marsupialia) from late Quaternary deposits in eastern Australia, pp 517-525. In: Archer, Michael (ed.). Carnivorous Marsupials. Mosman, N.S.W.: Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales.

Dawson, Lyndall. (1985). Marsupial fossils from Wellington Caves, New South Wales; the historic and scientific significance of the collections in the Australia Museum, Sydney. Records of the Australian Museum 37(2): 55-69.

Dawson, Lyndall and Augee, M. L. (1997). The late Quaternary sediments and fossil cave vertebrate fauna from Cathedral Cave, Wellington Caves, New South Wales. Proc. Linn. Soc. N.S.W. 117: 51-78.

De Vis, Charles W. [In. Anon.] (1893). A thylacine of the earlier nototherian period in Queensland. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales (Abstract) 29th November, 1893. [Republished 1894, Zool. Anz. 17 : 47.]

De Vis, Charles W. (1894). A thylacine of the earlier nototherian period in Queensland. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales (second series) 8: 443–447.

Dodson, John et al. (1993). Humans and megafauna in a late Pleistocene environment from Cuddie Springs, north western New South Wales. Archaeology in Oceania 28(2): 94-99.

Errey, K. and Flannery, Timothy F. (1978). The neglected megafaunal sites of the Colongulac region, western Victoria. The Artefact 3: 101-106. [Fossil record from western Victoria]

Etheridge, Robert. (1878). A Catalogue of Australian Fossils (Including Tasmania and the Island of Timor) Stratigraphically and Zoologically Arranged. London: Cambridge University Press.

R. A. Fraser and R. T. Wells. 2006. Palaeontological excavation and taphonomic investigation of the late Pleistocene fossil deposit in Grant Hall, Victoria Fossil Cave, Naracoorte, South Australia. Alcheringa 30(S1): 147-161.

Gasking, Ian. (1965). Underworld of the Nullarbor. Walkabout 31(11): 18-22.

Gill, Edmund Dwen. (1953). Distribution of the Tasmanian Devil, the Tasmanian Wolf, and the Dingo in Southeast Australia in Quaternary time. Victorian Naturalist 70: 86-90. [538 ± 200 BP for a site in Victorian, later correct to roughly 5,000 BP by (Gill, 1971)]

Gill, Edmund Dwen (1971). The Australian Aborigines and the Tasmanian Devil. Mankind 8: 59-60.

Ingram, B. S. (1969). Sporomorphs From The Dessicated Carcases of Mammals From Thylacine Hole, Western Australia. Helictite 7(3): 62-66.

Lowry, David C. and Lowry, Jacoba W. J. (1967). Discovery of a Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) carcase in a cave near Eucla, Western Australia. Helictite 5(2): 25-29.

Lowry, Jacoba W. J. (1972). The taxonomic status of small fossil Thylacines (Marsupialia; Thylacinidae), from Western Australia. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia 55(1): 19-29.

Lowry, Jacoba W. J. and Merrilees, D. (1969). Age of the desiccated carcase of a Thylacine (Marsupialia, Dasyuroidea) from Thylacine Hole, Nullabor region, Western Australia. Helictite 7(1): 15-16.

Lundelius, E. L. (1960). Post Pleistocene faunal succession in Western Australia and its climatic interpretation. Report of the International Geological Congress, XXI Session, Norden 1960 Pt. IV Chronology and climatology of the Quaternary, pp. 142-153.

Macintosh, N. W. G. and Mahoney, J. A. (1964). A 4,000 years old thylacine tooth (Dasyuridae) from Shelter 2. Proc. R. Soc. Vic. 77: 507-516.

McDowell, M. C. (1997). Taphonomy and palaeoenvironmental interpretation of a late Holocene deposit from Black’s Point Sinkhole, Venus Bay, SA. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 117: 79-95.

McWilliams, R., Allen, J., Cosgrove, R. and Holdaway, S. (1999). Archaeological database.Report of the Southern ForestsArchaeological Project,VOL. 3. CD-ROM (ISBN 1864465034). Bundoora: Archaeological Publications, Department of Archaeology, La Trobe University.

Merrilees, Duncan. (1968). Man the destroyer: late Quaternary changes in the Australian marsupial fauna. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia 51: 1-24.

Merrilees, Duncan. (1970). A Check on the Radiocarbon Dating of Dessicated Thylacine (Marsupial "Wolf") and Dog Tissue From Thylacine Hole, Nullarbor Region, Western Australia. Helictite 8(2): 39-42.

Merrilees, Duncan. (1973). Fossiliferous deposits at Lake Tandou, New South Wales, Australia. Memoirs of the National Museum of Victoria 34:177-182.

Merrilees, Duncan. (1979a). Prehistoric rock wallabies (Marsupialia, Macropodidae, Petrogale) in the far south-west of Western Australia. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia 61(3): 73-96. [According to J. H. Calaby: "Appendix 1: Canis and Thylacinus in Yallingup Cave"]

Merrilees, D. (1979b). The prehistoric environment in Western Australia. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia 62(3 or 4): 109-128.

Monks, Carly Elizabeth. (2016). Archaeology and palaeontology of Yellabidde Cave (E-30) and Weelawadji Cave (E-24). The Western Caver 56: 40.

Monks, Carly Elizabeth. (2018). Fire and Fauna: Investigating Aboriginal land management in the Northern Sawn Coastal Plain, Western Australia. BA (Hons) thesis, School of Social Sciences, Archaeology, The University of Western Australia. xvii + 346 pp.

Monks, Carly Elizabeth, Dortch, Joe, Jacobsen, Geraldine and Baynes, Alexander. (2016). Pleistocene occupation of Yellabidde Cave in the northern Swan CoastalPlain, southwestern Australia. Australian Archaeology 81: 275-279.

Mulvaney, D. J., Lawton, G. H. and Twidale, C. R. (1964). Archaeological excavation of Rock Shelter No. 6. Fromm's Landing, South Australia. Proc. Roy. Soc. Vict. 77: 479-516.

Murray, Ian. (1998). Recorded interview, City of Wanneroo Oral History Project: [Ian Murray – 27/01/1998] File # E294. 7 pp.

Partridge, Jeanette. (1967). A 3,300 year old thylacine (Marsupialia: Thylacinidae) from the Nullabor Plain, Western Australia. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia 50(2): 57-59.

Ride, W. D. L. (1960). The fossil mammalian fauna of the Burramys parvus breccia from the Wombeyan Caves, New South Wales. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia 43: 74-80.

Ride, W. D. L. (1964). A review of Australian fossil marsupials. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia 47(4): 97-131.

Susac, Robert A. J. (2007). A Literature Review & Report of Karst Biodiversity, Palaeontology & Hydrology in the Northern Agricultural Region, Western Australia. Unpublished report to the Department of Environment and Conservation. 82 pp.

Thorn, Kailah M. et al. (2017). Fossil mammals of Caladenia Cave, northern Swan Coastal Plain, south-western Australia. Records of the Western Australian Museum 32(2): 217-236.

van Deusen, Hobart M. (1963). First New Guinea record of Thylacinus. Journal of Mammalogy 44(2): 279-280.

Wakefield, N. A. (1963a). Sub-fossils from Mount Hamilton, Victoria. Vict. Nat. 79: 323-330.

Wakefield, N. A. (1963b). Mammal sub-fossils from near Portland, Victoria. Victorian Naturalist 80: 39-45.

Wakefield, N. A. (1967). Preliminary report on McEachern's Cave, S.W. Victoria. Victorian Naturalist 84: 363-383.

Westaway, Michael C., Price, Gilbert, Miscamble, Tony, McDonald, Jane, Cramb, Jonathon, Ringma, Jeremy, Grün, Rainer, Jones, Darryl and Collard, Mark. (2019). A palaeontological perspective on the proposal to reintroduce Tasmanian devils to mainland Australia to suppress invasive predators. Biological Conservation 232: 187-193.

Woodburne, M. O. (1967). The Alcoota Fauna, central Australia. Bulletin of the Bureau of Mineral Resources Geology and Geophysics, Australia 87: 1-187.

Wylie, John. (2013). Scotchtown Cave North-west Tasmania. Caves Australia 195: 20-25.

Wylie, John. (2018). Discovery of Tasmania’s first cave. Caves Australia 206: 5-11.