A blog series investigating stories and images from the earliest collection of photographs in the Museum's history.
It’s quite a thorny issue – is this the jaw of a Nototherium or its marsupial cousin Zygomaturus?
Different documents in our Archives have labelled the image of this specimen as both - and so the dilemma for a confused archivist. Both species from the Pleistocene era are members of the family Diprotodontidae - giant wombat-like creatures that once inhabited much of mainland Australia.
And just as it’s quite mesmerising today to think of these giant marsupials roaming the landscapes that we now inhabit – the Museum’s late great Curator Gerard Krefft was also fascinated by the mystery of megafauna. By 1830 Europeans had rediscovered an intricate cave system in the Wellington Valley of NSW and in the 1860s Krefft and the Museum’s photographer/articulator Henry Barnes were twice sent to investigate.
The Wellington Caves turned out to be a treasure trove - a remarkable assemblage of fossilised bones which included the remains of now extinct marsupials and megafauna – including giant kangaroos, giant echidnas, marsupial lions, Tasmanian tigers and of course the diprotodontids.
Some of these original specimens still exist in the Museums collections. Some are also documented by the original photographic record captured by Krefft and Barnes in the 1860s and preserved in the Museum’s Archives. In cases where Krefft himself may have been unsure of the precise classification of closely related species – because the negatives still exist we can continue to provide ready access to modern day experts.
After recently viewing the original V106 negative and confirming that it was an image of existing fossil specimen F4655 - Palaeontology Research Associate Dr Anne Musser was able to clear up our documentary dilemma. She’s 99% sure – it’s Zygomaturus !