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Scientists trace the doom of ancient super-sized kangaroos, wombats and crocs

Humans alone didn't cause the extinction of these fabulous megafauna in Australia.

This artist's impression shows what the megafauna scene might have looked like 40,000 years ago.
Queensland Museum

If you feel at all intimidated by Australia's current crop of wild and wonderful animals, then a visit to northern Queensland 40,000 years ago would truly rock your soul. Giant wombats, mind-bogglingly big kangaroos and 23-foot-long (7-meter) crocodiles roamed the area. 

Scientists now have a much better idea of why these glorious megafauna are no longer with us.

This photo from the Queensland dig site shows a marsupial jawbone.

Queensland Museum

Paleontologists from the Queensland Museum and a group of Australian universities investigated a treasure trove of fossils, including "the world's largest wombats and kangaroos." They were trying to solve a mystery: What wiped out these magnificent giants, and were humans responsible?

The team published its analysis in the journal Nature Communications on Monday.  

Humanity can breathe a sigh of relief. "We cannot place humans at this 40,000-year-old crime scene, we have no firm evidence. Therefore, we find no role for humans in the extinction of these species of megafauna," said Queensland Museum paleontologist Scott Hocknull, lead author of the study, in a release from the University of Wollongong.

Since humans weren't the culprit, the researchers had to look to other suspects. The death of the jumbo animals coincided with fires and loss of habitat, a story that has some haunting similarities to today's world

"No doubt humans would have hunted megafauna and had it for dinner. But these new results show that humans alone didn't drive megafauna to extinction; climate and environmental change was also a big driver," said UOW's Anthony Dosseto, a co-author of the study.