A fossilised giant wombat-like skeleton as large as a small car has been found on a Victorian beach by a local beachgoer.
It is believed to be the Diprotodon, the largest marsupial ever to have lived, and may be as old as 200,000 years and have weighed up to 1000kg.
Museum Victoria senior paleontologist Erich Fitzgerald said it was an exciting discovery because of its potential to shed new light on the extinct species.
“What we know is that it appears to be the most complete and best preserved discovery of this species in Victoria and one of the more complete found in Australia,” Dr Fitzgerald told AAP on Wednesday.
“We may be able to get a lot more information about the animal’s appearance and also potentially about its lifestyle from this particular specimen, given how much of it we actually have.”
The skeleton was discovered earlier this year on a beach in Mornington Peninsula National Park by a Sorrento local who noticed bones eroding out of a rock.
“It was found by completely by chance. The person did exactly the right thing and contacted Parks Victoria,” Dr Fitzgerald said.
The discovery came as a surprise to paleontologists as the area had never revealed any significant fossils.
“The ones that had been found have not been very complete,” Dr Fitzgerald said.
“It suggests further exploration may lead to additional discoveries.”
The job of removing the specimen from the site is ongoing and it may be months before researchers know for sure how much of it is preserved and intact.
The species was widespread across Australia when the first indigenous people arrived but became extinct about 25,000 years ago.