Fossil records show giant rodent species was used for food by early humans on the island.
Stories of large rats are not uncommon, but archaeologists recently discovered the fossil remains of several species of rats, many that grew up to 10 pounds, the size of a small dog, according to an article on washingtonpost.com.
Researchers, searching for fossil records on the island of Timor in Southeast Asia, have identified four new genera of murids, the group that includes rats, mice, and gerbils, and report they have uncovered at least eight species of the rodents.
Dating back around 44,000 years, the new species are all considered giant rodents by the standards with which we gauge rats today.
The archaeologists also say they have found evidence that humans living in the area at the same time, hunted, butchered and consumed the large rodents as meals. In a statement, researcher Julien Louys of the Australian National University said the team knew the early residents ate the rodents because they found cut and burn marks on the fossilized bones.
Though the giant rodents are extinct today, it isn’t likely they were hunted to death by humans searching for food. In fact, the last of the giant rats on the island only died out about 1,000 years ago.
Instead, the research team believes the species, along with all but two native mammal species on the island of Timor, were the victims of modern metal tools, developed to allow their human neighbors to clear forests and destroy the native habitats.
The team believes the habitat destruction allowed the rat’s predators, such as monitor lizards and large birds, to decimate the species.
Louys and his fellow researcher, commented they would like to continue to study the influence that human migration had on the island’s ecosystem, and suggesting that the protection of the forests could have allowed the rats to survive and co-exist with the humans on the island.
The team is also added that once they discover what types of flora and fauna existed on the island prior to the arrival of humans, they can determine what impact the human migration had on the existing species.
The researchers presented their findings at the Meetings of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Dallas, Texas. Their work is part of the From Sunda to Sahul project, that is looking to track the earliest human movements throughout Southeast Asia.