Showing posts with label prehistory. Show all posts
Showing posts with label prehistory. Show all posts

A prehistoric megafauna map of Australia

map of the prehistoric megafauna Australia Sahul
The prehistoric continent of Sahul: Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea 
joined by low sea levels sixty five thousand years ago
and the vanished megafauna of the late Pleistocene 

"When people lived alongside creatures unique
Giants of fur and pouch, tooth scale and beak"


A playful prehistoric megafauna map of Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea which explores in reliable detail a specific slice of deep time. 

By drawing on the available science to depict ice age coastlines, rivers, lakes, ocean currents, climate, fauna and the presence of humans, the artwork visualises the past in a fun educational way and challenges a static Australian identity.

poster of prehistoric megafauna map of Australia Sahul t-shirt of Diprotodon t-shirt of prehistoric megafauna map of Australia


Why make this map of prehistoric Australia?

Ten years ago I created a map of the supercontinent Pangaea populated with various creatures that lived in the Triassic. Similar in style to an old sea-faring map with monsters, only the monsters of this time were real. It proved to be popular poster art.

As a professional illustrator with years of experience in educational science illustration I was driven to follow up the map of Pangaea by assembling a map of prehistoric Australia. 

The intention was to create an intuitive, engaging way to imagine features of Australia’s past such as land bridges, ancient lakes and ecosystems of vanished enigmatic animals, and to consider the connection of life to climate and a changing terrain. These things have never before been visualised together in one document.

The prehistoric megafauna map of Australia is a serious exploration of the knowledge gathered by expert minds, presented as fun, engaging and educational children’s art.  


A video flyover of the Prehistoric megafauna map of Australia


How was this map made?

There was no existing single visual reference for this map!
To coalesce many fields of science into one image required extensive reading of available knowledge.

I created my own reference guided by scientific literature, topological data and mapping software. Using a referenced estimate of sea levels 65,000 years ago (apparently about 85 metres below present) it was possible to use sea floor data GEBCO 2020 Grid and QGIS mapping software to render a reference map showing the coastlines of a lower sea level. To do this I had to learn to use actual mapping software! 


mapping Australia's pleistocene coastline
Using sea floor data GEBCO 2020 Grid and QGIS
mapping software to reveal Australia's ice age coastline


The depicted geographical features such as rivers, lakes, mountains, snow lines, areas of vegetation and climate were derived from information gathered from topographical data sets and relevant research papers.

The animals featured were chosen for research suggesting they were still living at the time this map explores. Extinction dates of these animals are uncertain but are likely to have happened after this time period. Except for the Meiolania tortoise. No one knows when this went extinct!

To keep the map clear and un-confusing only large extinct species are featured.

Where possible the animals were based on skeletal reconstructions or diagrammatic reconstructions sourced from relevant research papers, and the latest science describing the animal’s life appearance, posture, etc. Sometimes there were only brief written descriptions or suppositions to go by. Some details are simply made up (ie fur colour) because no one actually knows.

The animals have mostly been placed where they might have lived, though for balance and aesthetics I used some license.


map detail of ice age lake carpentaria
Over the last 2.4 million years with fluctuating sea levels
more often than not the Gulf of Carpentaria
has been a lake

map detail of ice-age lake bass and tasmanian land bridge
During Glacial Maximums (ice ages) when sea levels are low
Australia and Tasmania are connected by a 'land bridge'
and Bass Strait becomes a lake


Meet the vanished megafauna

These creatures lived side by side with the Australian animals we see around us today. With a few notable exceptions most of the megafauna on this map are thought to have gone extinct around 40, 000 years ago.

It was once a land of far greater biological diversity. Sadly we can no longer see these enigmatic giants in real life, though in a few cases this may be for the best. Some of them were terrifying!

So, in order of their appearance on the map...


prehistoric tortoise Meiolania

  • A giant horned tortoise  
  • Had a spiked tail reinforced with rings of bone 
  • Had a pair of pointy horns and many knobbly spikes on its head 
  • Shell length from 0.75 to 2 metres depending on species 
  • An amazing example of convergent evolution with ankylosaurs (armoured dinosaurs)  

Hulitherium tomasetti

Hulitherium tomasetti

  • A giant marsupial living in the mountain rain-forests of what is now the island of New Guinea 
  • Could probably stand on its hind legs and reach up for juicy leaves 
  • A browser, preferring soft foliage  
  • Weighed from 75 kg to 200 kg 

Thylacine cynocephalus

Thylacine cynocephalus Tasmanian tiger

  • Known as the Tasmanian tiger, yet until a few thousand years ago it lived throughout the entire continent 
  • Roamed Australia and New Guinea during the Pleistocene only going extinct in the 20th century 
  • A carnivorous marsupial, carrying its young in a pouch 
  • An example of convergent evolution, many of its features were strikingly like that of a dog 
  • Could open its mouth very wide, to around 80 degrees 
  • Sightings still occur but remain unproven
  • Officially declared extinct in the 1980s

Genyornis newtoni

giant bird Genyornis newtoni

  • A giant flightless bird  
  • Tiny wings and massive, strong legs 
  • The heavily built beak could be used to apply great force 
  • Grew to over 2 metres tall and 250 kg 
  • Related to ducks and geese, but a whole lot bigger 
  • The last of the mihrungs, a family of giant flightless birds 

Phascolonus gigas

Phascolonus gigas

  • The biggest species of wombat ever  
  • Had big square front teeth that grew non stop 
  • Grew to around 200 kg 
  • Did it do cube shaped poo like modern wombats? 

Palorchestes azael

Palorchestes azael

  • An enigmatic giant marsupial  
  • 1.5 metres at the shoulder and massed 1000 kg 
  • A slow powerful animal with a strange head and unusual gait 
  • Strong forelimbs, elbows that could not straighten and chunky claws 
  • Well developed prehensile lips and a long tongue 

Sthenurus stirlingi

giant kangaroo Sthenurus stirlingi

  • A giant short-faced kangaroo 
  • Strong heavy build with robust bones 
  • Grew to between 150 and 200 kg 
  • Short flat face with forward facing eyes 
  • Could reach its arms well above its head to pull down tasty leaves 


Pleistocene crocodile Quinkana

  • A land dwelling crocodile 
  • Broad snout and curved, serrated teeth for slicing through flesh 
  • A fast runner with long upright legs 
  • Growing from 2 to 5 metres long 
  • One of the mekosuchines, a now-extinct lineage of crocodiles 


prehistoric snake Wonambi

  • Last of an ancient lineage of snakes known as the Madtsoiids 
  • Killed prey by constriction yet was not a python or a boa 
  • Grew to 5 or 6 metres long and weighed about 50 kg 
  • Ate smallish prey as its jaw was not flexible like a modern snake 
  • Named after the Dreamtime Rainbow Serpent 

Procoptodon goliah 

giant short faced kangaroo Procoptodon goliah

  • A giant short-faced kangaroo  
  • Big single toe claws like hoofs 
  • Their anatomy suggests they did not hop. Instead they walked! 
  • Heavy build, weighing around 200 to 240 kg 
  • About two metres in height when sitting up 
  • Short flat face 
  • Ate tough leaves and stems 
  • Long arms with two long claws on each hand for reaching leaves 

Diprotodon optatum

giant marsupial Diprotodon optatum

  • The biggest marsupial ever! 
  • Huge skull filled with air cavities to keep it lighter 
  • Up to 3 metres long, 2 metres at the shoulder and massing 3000 kg 
  • Lived in groups and may have been migratory 
  • Back feet had funny inward turned toes 

Zygomaturus trilobus

Zygomaturus trilobus

  • A giant diprotodontid living to about 33,000 years ago in Australia 
  • May have lived in coastal regions near swamps, lakes and rivers 
  • One of the largest marsupials to have ever lived 
  • About 1.5 metres at the shoulder and up to 500 kg 
  • huge cheek bones and a big rubbery nose 

Megalania (Varanus Priscus)

gian lizard Megalania Varanus Priscus

  • The giant monitor lizard  
  • By far the biggest terrestrial lizard to have ever lived 
  • Estimated lengths approaching 5 to 7 metres and massing up to 2200 kg 
  • Mouth full of large teeth like serrated blades 
  • Had venom and toxic bacteria in its saliva 

Murrayglossus hacketti

giant echidna Murrayglossus hacketti

  • The giant echidna 
  • Biggest egg laying mammal ever 
  • Longer straighter legs than other echidnas 
  • About 30 kg and 1 m long 
  • Very long beak 
  • Tongue around half a metre long 

Progura gallinacea

giant malleefowl Progura gallinacea

  • The giant megapode 
  • Buried their eggs in warm sand dunes, leaving their young to fend for themselves 
  • As tall as a grey kangaroo 
  • Despite its size it could fly... a bit 
  • The giant cousin of bush turkeys and malleefowl 
  • Is it responsible for the remains of egg shell previously attributed to the giant bird Genyornis?

Thylacoleo carnifex

marsupial lion Thylacoleo carnifex

  • A huge marsupial carnivore
  • Around 130 kg and 1.5 m long 
  • For its weight the most powerful bite of any mammal ever 
  • Teeth like enormous cutting shears 
  • Enormous hooked thumb claws for securing prey 
  • A strong tail for balance when leaping or rearing up 

Protemnodon anak

giant kangaroo Protemnodon anak

  • A slender giant of a kangaroo with a very long neck
  • Quadrupedal, tending to walk on all fours  
  • A browser, eating mostly leaves and stems 
  • Grew to about 2 metres tall and 150 kg 

Want to know more about the giants of Australia’s Pleistocene?

There are many excellent museums and locations around Australia which deliver amazing insights into Australia’s ice age landscapes and life. My personal favourites are

  • Naracoorte cave tours and Wonambi Fossil Centre in Naracoorte, South Australia
  • Mungo track, tours and visitors center at Mungo National Park, New South Wales
  • Melbourne Museums exhibit 600 Million Years, the origin and evolution of life in Victoria

A book about Australian megafauna suitable for all ages with beautiful illustrations:

  • Prehistoric Giants : The Megafauna of Australia
    written by Danielle Clode published by Museum Victoria 2009

Or if you want to take a deep dive into Australia's Pleistocene climate and ecology a great starting point is searching for topics on Google Scholar

Map sources

To make the Prehistoric megafauna map of Australia required extensive reading of available knowledge. References as follows:

Map projection
Lambert conformal conic projection

Coastal contours
Based on bathymetric data GEBCO 2020 Grid.
Rendered with QGIS for reference

Sea level at 85 meters below present
De Deckker, P., Arnold, L.J., van der Kaars, S., Bayon, G., Stuut, J.B.W., Perner, K., dos Santos, R.L., Uemura, R. and Demuro, M., 2019. Marine Isotope Stage 4 in Australasia: A full glacial culminating 65,000 years ago–Global connections and implications for human dispersal. Quaternary Science Reviews, 204, pp.187-207.

Based on land data GEBCO 2020 Grid

Existing rivers and salt lakes
Australia Report Map Geoscience Australia 2007

Coastal paleo rivers
Harris, P., Heap, A., Passlow, V., Sbaffi, L., Fellows, M., Porter-Smith, R., Buchanan, C. and Daniell, J., 2003. Geomorphic features of the continental margin of Australia. Geoscience Australia, Canberra.
Voris, H.K., 2000. Maps of Pleistocene sea levels in Southeast Asia: shorelines, river systems and time durations. Journal of biogeography, 27(5), pp.1153-1167.
Hill, P.J., De Deckker, P., Von der Borch, C. and Murray-Wallace, C.V., 2009. Ancestral Murray River on the Lacepede Shelf, southern Australia: Late Quaternary migrations of a major river outlet and strandline development. Australian Journal of Earth Sciences, 56(2), pp.135-157.
Murray-Wallace, C.V., 2014. The continental shelves of SE Australia. Geological Society, London, Memoirs, 41(1), pp.273-291.

Paleo lakes
Harris, P.T., Heap, A.D., Marshall, J.F. and McCulloch, M., 2008. A new coral reef province in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia: colonisation, growth and submergence during the early Holocene. Marine Geology, 251(1-2), pp.85-97.
Baird, M., 2018. Bass Strait Glider Reveals the Ancient Bassian Lake. Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) Ocean Current News

Sand dunes
Hesse, P.P., 2010. The Australian desert dunefields: formation and evolution in an old, flat, dry continent. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 346(1), pp.141-164.

Climate and vegetation
De Deckker, P., Arnold, L.J., van der Kaars, S., Bayon, G., Stuut, J.B.W., Perner, K., dos Santos, R.L., Uemura, R. and Demuro, M., 2019. Marine Isotope Stage 4 in Australasia: A full glacial culminating 65,000 years ago–Global connections and implications for human dispersal. Quaternary Science Reviews, 204, pp.187-207.
De Deckker, P., Moros, M., Perner, K., Blanz, T., Wacker, L., Schneider, R., Barrows, T.T., O’Loingsigh, T. and Jansen, E., 2020. Climatic evolution in the Australian region over the last 94 ka-spanning human occupancy-, and unveiling the Last Glacial Maximum. Quaternary Science Reviews, 249, p.106593.
Hope, G., Kershaw, A.P., van der Kaars, S., Xiangjun, S., Liew, P.M., Heusser, L.E., Takahara, H., McGlone, M., Miyoshi, N. and Moss, P.T., 2004. History of vegetation and habitat change in the Austral-Asian region. Quaternary International, 118, pp.103-126.

Sea currents
Petrick, B., Martínez-García, A., Auer, G., Reuning, L., Auderset, A., Deik, H., Takayanagi, H., De Vleeschouwer, D., Iryu, Y. and Haug, G.H., 2019. Glacial indonesian throughflow weakening across the mid-pleistocene climatic transition. Scientific reports, 9(1), pp.1-13.

Megafauna living 65,000 years ago
Bradshaw, C.J., Johnson, C.N., Llewelyn, J., Weisbecker, V., Strona, G. and Saltré, F., 2021. Relative demographic susceptibility does not explain the extinction chronology of Sahul’s megafauna. Elife, 10, p.e63870.
Hocknull, S.A., Lewis, R., Arnold, L.J., Pietsch, T., Joannes-Boyau, R., Price, G.J., Moss, P., Wood, R., Dosseto, A., Louys, J. and Olley, J., 2020. Extinction of eastern Sahul megafauna coincides with sustained environmental deterioration. Nature communications, 11(1), pp.1-14.

Presence of modern humans
Clarkson, C., Jacobs, Z., Marwick, B., Fullagar, R., Wallis, L., Smith, M., Roberts, R.G., Hayes, E., Lowe, K., Carah, X. and Florin, S.A., 2017. Human occupation of northern Australia by 65,000 years ago. Nature, 547(7663), pp.306-310.

painting a Troodon for Dinosaur Hamlet

troodon Dinosaur Hamlet painting

Dinosaur Hamlet is my entry to the 2015 Illustrators Australia 9x5 art show. 

It took much longer to paint than anticipated, and being no expert with acrylic paints I battled with the medium throughout the entire process. Oh well, the battle is over, the painting is completed and has been delivered to the gallery in time to be part of the show.

The theme this year is 'Playtime', so I painted a Troodon, which is small relatively intelligent bird-like dinosaur from the Cretaceous period. It poses with a dinosaur skull as if performing the famous 'Alas poor Yorick' monologue from Shakespear's Hamlet. An obvious response to the theme, don't you think? 

This Illustrators Australia 9x5 art show will be up until 5 Dec 2015. More than 60 illustrators have each done an artwork in response to the theme 'playtime' on a 9x5 inch ply board. So if you are in Melbourne get along to the Abbotsford Convent and have a look. You will be glad you did!  

Oh, and I illustrated and designed this year's invite featuring a playtime kitten. Inspired by Miso the wonder cat attacking my toes in the middle of the night. 

'Playtime' the Illustrators Australia 2015 9x5 exhibition

And finally, here is an animated gif of the Dinosaur Hamlet in progress, so you can see how I went about painting it. It took a lot longer than this gif does!

found in local shop

Today while checking out the local second hand shops I was surprised to spot a couple of familiar faces.  Designed these little toys years ago as characters for collectable ranges.
I immediately bought them of course, but what am I going to do with them now? Dunno. Cool to find them all the same.

toy designs by Richard Morden

Dinosaurs asleep - poster illustration

illustration of sleeping dinosaurs under a city

The Illustrators Australia A3 print show is over and I have picked up my prints.

And a big surprise, I recieved the A3 Show Peoples Choice Award with my print 'Dinosaurs Asleep' :)

There was a little box people could drop their People's Choice votes into and somehow an image of sleeping dinosaurs under a city caught enough peoples attention.

So thank you to Illustrators Australia for organising the fine event, and thank you to fine art printers Image Science for sponsoring the award - the print voucher and monitor calibrator will both be very handy. I had Image Science print my A3 artwork for the show - they did a high quality, fast and friendly job, as always.

My Peoples Choice vote actually went towards Gregory Roberts' piece Life in the paddock. A clever beautiful image and totally right-now.

At the opening I found an abundance of excellent work to admire and loads of friendly, talented illustrators to talk to and be quietly in awe of. In particular I had a great time chatting to fellow illustrators Tali Gal-on and Nicole Onslow.

So if you did not catch the fun this year then make sure you drop in for a wine and a squiz next year!

R :)

cartoon megafauna t-shirts and kid's clothes

Megatherium tshirt

This 8 ton prehistoric American ground sloth gives very big hugs.

Glyptodon tshirt

A Glyptodon (South American giant armadillo) plonks itself down on a hapless Pudu (a tiny deer).

Thylacoleo tshirt

Thylacoleo, the Australian marsupial lion and one time terror of the outback, assails a moth.

Mammoth adventure tshirt

This Mammoth has its motor started, it is out and on the highway, it is looking for adventure. Oh yeah, whatever comes its way.

Zygomaturus tshirt

Zygomaturus, a prehistoric Australian marsupial swamp-cow takes ownership of the letter Z.

These t-shirts feature megafauna, a fancy name for large animals. All these particular megafauna have become extinct during the time modern humans have been around. Chances are you have ancestors who saw, ran away from or ate some of the following prehistoric beasties!

These designs are available via my Redbubble page where they can be ordered online and delivered to you. They are available as men's or women's t-shirts and hoodies and as kids sized t-shirts and clothes.

Original hand painted brush-and-ink artwork, scanned and coloured.
I designed these with kids in mind, but hey, if you are an adult and want to wear one that's okay too!

map of the supercontinent Pangaea

"Our world long ago, all the lands joined together
When first appeared beasties of fur and of feather"

This is a map of the world as it may have looked around 240 million years ago in the middle of the Triassic period. Drawn with pen and ink, coloured and textured digitally.

Two massive lands Gondwana and Laurasia had just bumped into each other, creating the Appelation Mountains and forming the supercontinent Pangaea.

Although there are other maps of Pangaea around, I could not find any illustrated in an old world style with monsters roaming the land and seas. So I just had to have a go at making one myself. Yep... nerd. I know.

Please note, I am an artist not a scientist. Although I did a fair bit of research to get it as right as I could, there is still plenty of artistic license. For instance, I made up all the rivers - sorry, I just couldn't find reference which told me where the real ones were. A few of the mountains could well be wrong too. And that volcano in between South America and Africa, well it just looked good there. So to any time travellers out there, this map is not to be used for navigation, it is decoration only!

Meet the beasties...

The animals featured are all carefully based on life that would have been kicking around within ten million years or so of that time. I intentionally didn't label them on the map, as I think leaving the creatures a little vague and generic aids imagination. Further more, when these creatures actually existed they didn't have titles such as Saurisichisan or Amonite, instead they would have thought of each other as 'the scaley thing with big teeth it is better not to go near' or 'the tasty little furred critter' or maybe 'the giant winged one who poos from the sky'.

But for the curious, and for a closer look at all the detail going on, here is a list of what the beasties are meant to represent. (You are allowed to scroll quickly through this bit. I am being a little self indulgent)

Cynodont illustration








Helicoprion - alas I drew its mouth
swirl upside down. Whoops!


The Triassic plants featured are fern trees, ferns, conifers, giant club mosses, quillworts and cycads.

As you can see this artwork has an extraordinary amount of texture and detail. It is designed to look its best when printed at poster sizes. It would be ideal educational artwork for a classroom or decoration for a kids room.

R :)