The 1st people to set foot in Australia more than 50 centuries ago would have had to wage war on the giant lizards that had up until then been the only masters of that land. This is not the plot of a science fiction movie but the result of a lengthy archaeological study published in Quaternary Science Reviews journal.
Studies have shown that the ancient lizards were up to 23 ft (7 m) in length and weighed up to 3 tons.
"We just couldn't believe it when we found a small part of the fossilized remains of a giant lizard while digging in one of the Capricorn Caves. This bone, just 1/2″ (1 cm), is the latest clue of the presence of these lizards on the continent, " says Dr. Gilbert Price of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.
Price and his team came across the first signs of these mind-boggling lizards while studying the sedimentary layers in the caves inhabited by Cro-Magnons in the central part of Australia.
The bone is an osteoderm - a small bony plate under the reptile's skin, which strengthens it. Initially, scientists thought they had come across the remains of a Komodo dragon. The scientists were then divided because the bone's size was inconsistent with a typical Komodo dragon.
"We can't tell if the bone is from a Komodo dragon - which once roamed Australia - or an even bigger species like the extinct Megalania monitor lizard, which weighed about 1100 lb (500 kg) and grew up to 19.5 ft (6 m) long. But either way, the find is pretty significant, especially for the time frame that it dates, " Price said.
But what stunned scientists most of all was the relatively young age of the bone - 50 000 years. The gigantic lizards vanished in other parts of the world more than 120 000 years ago.
Price believes that the Australian giant lizards survived longer due to Australia's isolation, but ultimately vanished with the coming of man, as well as many other representatives of the megafauna on the continent.