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Archaeologists with the Australian National University have discovered the fossils of seven different species of giant rats, one of which could grow to be up to 10 times the size of the critters that scurry through New York City subways.
“The biggest one is about five kilos, the size of a small dog,” Dr. Julien Louys of the ANU School of Culture, History and Language said Friday in a press release.
Archaeologists found the fossils in East Timor while working on a project examining early human movement in Southeast Asia. These fossils are around 44,000 years old, according to The Washington Post. Evidence suggest that humans, who lived in Timor as much as 46,000 years ago, would hunt and eat the mega-rats.
It’s not clear exactly when archaeologists first found the fossils, and ANU didn’t immediately return a request for comment from The Huffington Post.
Researchers say one of the most interesting aspects of the rats is how scientists suspect they died out — and the implications that could have for life today.
“The funny thing is that [humans and rats] 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,” Louys said in the statement.
He further explained the link between habitat destruction and extinction during an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Company.
“It’s not the presence of human hunters using traditional weapons that’s causing the extinctions of these giant rats,” he said. “It’s actually this massive deforestation and land clearing. When you think there’s actually similar things happening now in land areas in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, it’s really important to keep in mind the effects of this deforestation might actually cause many more extinctions.”
Contact the author at Hilary.Hanson@huffingtonpost.com
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