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Video clip synopsis – The extraordinary build-up of fossils in South Australia’s World and National Heritage-listed Naracoorte Caves spans at least 350,000 years and provides rare evidence of Australia’s distinctive fauna and the way it has evolved.
Year of production - 2009
Duration - 5min 1sec
Tags - Australia's Heritage, conservation, environment, prehistory, preservation, science, see all tags


Naracoorte Fossil Mammal Site

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About the Video Clip


Naracoorte Fossil Mammal Site is an episode from the series Australia’s Heritage – National Treasures with Chris Taylor, produced in 2009.

Series Synopsis
Take a voyage of discovery with Chris Taylor as he reveals the secrets behind a fascinating mix of treasures from Australia’s National Heritage List. In the third season of five-minute documentaries in the National Treasures series, Taylor travels around Australia delivering historical snapshots of objects and places from the National Heritage List. He talks with experts and enthusiasts, revealing fascinating insights into our famous and not-so-famous past.

Australia’s Heritage – National Treasures with Chris Taylor is a Screen Australia National Documentary Program produced in association with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and made with the assistance of the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.

Curriculum Focus


Teachers and students should consult their state or territory’s curriculum and learning programs.

For information on state and territory curricula
Go to: State and territory curriculum – Curriculum Corporation

Background Information


The fossil mammal site at Naracoorte in South Australia was placed on the World Heritage List in 1994. The site covers 300 hectares and is located in flat country, punctuated by a series of stranded coastal dune ridges that run parallel to the present coastline.

Naracoorte has a cool, moist climate with long, mild, relatively dry summers and maximum rainfall occurring in winter. Here in the cool caves are fossils that document a distinctive fauna, with the ancestors of modern species alongside the doomed giants of a world that was about to be devastated by climatic changes. These fossils illustrate faunal change spanning several ice ages, highlighting the impacts of both climatic change and humankind on Australia’s mammals from at least 350,000 years before the present.

Specimens representing 99 vertebrate species have been discovered, ranging in size from very small frogs to buffalo-sized marsupials. These include exceptionally preserved examples of the Australian Ice Age megafauna, as well as a host of modern species such as the Tasmanian devil, thylacine and others. The Naracoorte fossils span the probable time of the arrival of humans in Australia, and this is valuable in analysing the complex relationships between humans and their environment.

The Naracoorte site provides evidence of key stages in the evolution of the fauna of the world’s most isolated continent. The history of mammal lineages in modern Australia can be traced through these fossil deposits and, as a consequence, there is a better understanding of the conservation status of living mammals and their communities. While there are other important Australian fossil mammal sites, both Naracoorte, and a similarly listed World Heritage site at Riversleigh, in Queensland, are outstanding for the extreme diversity and the quality of preservation of their fossils.

Classroom Activities

  1. After viewing the program on Naracoorte Fossil Mammal Site, discuss in class then write responses to the following:
    1. When and how was the Naracoorte Caves Fossil Mammal Site discovered, and by whom?
    2. Explain how the contents of the caves are, in the words of the program, an ‘isolated snapshot in time’. How did the fossilised remains of the animals come to be in the caves?
    3. Define the term ‘megafauna’. Explain why the megafauna found in the caves is now extinct.
  2. The remains found in the caves are from the geological Pleistocene Epoch. Carry out appropriate research then write a description of the main characteristics of this era in Australia. Refer to climate change, animals and humans. You may wish to include a geological timeline indicating when the Pleistocene era occurred.
  3. In pairs create an illustrated poster display of the types of megafauna animals, now extinct, found at the Naracoorte Site. Include explanatory text as required.
  4. Discuss in class then write a short commentary on the historical significance to Australians of the Naracoorte Site.

Further Resources


Danielle Clode, Prehistoric Giants: The Megafauna of Australia, Museum Victoria, Carlton, Vic, 2009

Ian Cuming (director), The Future Eaters (Episode 1, Taming the Fire), ABC TV, 1998

Paul Willis and Abbie Thomas, _Digging Up Deep Time: Fossils, Dinosaurs and Megabeasts from Australia’s Distant Past, ABC Books, Sydney, 2005

Go to: National Heritage: Naracoorte Fossil Mammal Site
Go to: Australian Museum: Naracoorte
(Note: clicking the above Australian Museum page’s back button takes you to other Australian fossil sites, such as Riversleigh.)