Adam Yates at Megafauna Central in Alice Springs

Transcript: Episode 4, Dr Adam Yates

This is a transcript of Episode 4 of Fossils and Fiction. Find the full audio and show notes at this link.

Travis Holland 0:07
Welcome to Fossils and Fiction, a podcast exploring cultural and scientific ideas about dinosaurs.

My guest today is Dr. Adam Yates, the senior curator in earth sciences at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. Adam joins us to talk about Australian megafauna and paleontological history of the Australian continent, amongst other interesting topics.

Adam Yates, welcome to Fossils and Fiction.

Adam Yates 0:57
Thank you very much.

Travis Holland 0:59
Adam, could you tell me about your professional role and what it involves?

Adam Yates 1:04
Okay, so I am the curator for Earth Sciences for the Museum and Art Gallery in the Northern Territory. So that role has a number of different aspects to it. So I am responsible for curating the Territory’s collection of science materials that largely boils down to fossils and meteorites. Those are the two main aspects that we deal with and fossils are definitely get the larger share of attention. I am a paleontologist, by training but I’m learning about meteorites in this role. But meteorites are few and far between. and o looking after those is considerably easier job thn minding the fossils.

Travis Holland 1:55
The fossils that you do have in the Northern Territory. I think you mentioned there’s not many dinosaurs up that way. What do you have?

Adam Yates 2:03
Okay, so we have a range of different fossils, we’ve got some extremely old fossils. So we have early paleozoic stuff. So that’s the era going back to long before dinosaurs existed, when there was a seaway running through Central Australia, sometimes called the Larapintine Sea, and that left behind all sorts of mostly invertebrates, but including some of the world’s earliest vertebrates, as well. Some very early jawless armored fish. We have as well, dinosaur aged marine reptiles from around Darwin. So far, though, those outcrops are rather limited and usually sub-tidal and they’re only exposed on the lowest of low tides. And so that means with such limited prospecting prospects, we haven’t yet found a dinosaur there, though. We’ve found lots of ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, mosasaurs, and things like that. So there certainly will be a dinosaur up there. We just haven’t found one yet. But what we so

Travis Holland 3:17
Australian Mosasaurs I hadn’t heard about.

Adam Yates 3:21
Yeah, they’re not all there’s not a lot of material. There’s a few scraps. But definitely there were Mosasaurs mooching around the northern coast of Australia, they probably didn’t go much further south, given the Mosasaurs are definitely lizards they were. We don’t know what their physiology was. But I would warrant that they probably couldn’t cope with the super cold waters that you would have gotten further south. Whereas ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs seem to be able to cope with those. But the main thing we have in Central Australia, particularly where I work is early megafauna. So the famous Ice Age or Pleistocene megafauna of say, the last million years going up to about 40,000 years ago, think with things like thylacoleo, and diprotodon, which are very well known. They had antecedents going back further into the Miocene epoch going back to about 8 million years ago. And that’s a time in Australia where there was very little fossil formation going on. But it’s a critical time because it’s when Australia started to really become dry drying out. So it’s like the great drying, the browning of Australia. And we have fortunately in Central Australia, a fantastic deposit that falls right in that time period. So it’s pretty much unique on the Australian continent. It’s known as Alcoota and it’s a fantastically rich bed of fossils. We have have upwards of 20,000 registered specimens from that site. And we still excavating. In fact, we’re planning to go back out there later on this year. And yeah, it’s it’s a fantastic record of the earlier ancestors of the better known Pleistocene megafauna.

Travis Holland 5:19
I think that is interesting because when people think about Australian megafauna, they think about the ones that you know, were here perhaps 50-60,000 years ago or there abouts. But you’re talking a bit older, you’re talking about this, as you said, their ancestors so what have you found there at Alcoota?

Adam Yates 5:38
Okay, well at Alcoota perhaps one of the most spectacular animals is a called dromornis stirtoni,. It’s one of these large giant flightless birds or mihirungs, as they’re sometimes called. And in fact, it’s the largest mihirungs that we know of, and quite possibly the largest bird that lived anywhere on Earth ever.

Travis Holland 6:00
Fantastic. And definitely flightless?

Adam Yates 6:03
Definitely flightless. It’s wings are about the size of a chicken. So if you have a roast chicken and you pull off, pull off one of those wings that’s about the size of the wing of a dromornis stirtoni.

Travis Holland 6:15
It’s not getting not getting that body off the ground. What else have you found there? I believe you found some small crocodiles. You said about the size of a caiman?

Adam Yates 6:25
We found found big and small crocodiles. So there were crocodiles living there. So although the climate was definitely drying out, it hadn’t reached modern levels of aridity yet, so there was enough water to float crocodiles. And so we have to as yet undescribed species of crocodile from Alcoota. One of them is a large member of the genus Baru, which is known from older deposits in Northern Australia, including Riversley. But this Baru is different, and it’s probably the very last Baru. It’s one of the things that went extinct a little bit earlier. So long before the 40,000 year extinctions. They were extinctions in the late Miocene and baru seems to be one of those early extinctions.

Travis Holland 7:16
Is that associated with some of those early stages of drying?

Adam Yates 7:19
I suspect it probably is. As I said, the record for Australia at that time is very, very patchy. So it’s hard to reconstruct the story with confidence. But it really does seem that yes, there was probably a severe drop, like a pulse of heredity, the weather conditions may have actually returned. These things are never continuous, like with with a straight line trend. There’s ups and downs, they wobble around. So while it’s trending towards greater aridity, there are ups and downs. So there was a down in the late Miocene, but there was probably a rise again to a warmer and wetter conditions. In the early pliocene we’re talking about 4 million years ago, climate seems to have gotten a little better. But that didn’t last and aridity continued to bite as we head towards the Ice Age.

Travis Holland 8:18
And you referred to I know I’m jumping around a little bit – you refer to the interior seaway?

Adam Yates 8:26
Yes, that’s a lot older, a lot, lot older.

Travis Holland 8:29
It is the same one that was around at the time of in the Cretaceous period, or it’s

Adam Yates 8:34
No, it’s even older. So we’re talking back to a time when Australia would have been utterly unrecognizable. The east coast states simply didn’t exist. That was open ocean, there was no Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria or probably little bits of Victoria. And the main mass of Australia was the southern, or Southwestern quadrant. And that was firmly part of Gondwana at the time. Then there were other lands to the north, in what is now the Top End area, and between them a series of seas, which may or may not have been connected. What happened then, so they were talking here at a time about 460 million years ago in the Ordovician period, and probably extending further back or definitely extending further back into the Cambrian as well. And then as time went on, as we approach the Silurian and Devonian, or probably during the Devonian, this seaway closed up well, by that by that stage, the Seaway had gone and was replaced with freshwater lakes and rivers. But the whole basin itself closed up and underwent a compression, which pushed up mountains so we get all the central ranges, MacDonnell Ranges, Everard Ranges, Petermann Ranges, all these things in Central Australia are a result of this compression which squeezed these basins, thrusting them up into a series of mountain ranges. And this all happened before the seaway that is famous that occupied Central Queensland and had had all the marine reptiles in it, etc.

Travis Holland 10:17
The one yielded most of the major Australian fossils. Really?

Adam Yates 10:22
Well a lot of species, the Mesozoic age ones, the ones that everyone thinks of. But Paleontology is such a vast and vast science. And there’s a huge stretch of history. And it’s not just the Mesozoic, I know, the Mesozoic is wonderful. And it’s filled with all of the crowd favorites. But there are a lot of other interesting things happening in other parts of the time.

Travis Holland 10:46
The crowd favorites, I love that term. That’s fantastic. I liked to. I like the conversation of trying to put these things in context for people, because these are huge, such huge time spans. And compared to human time span, which we’re only really talking about 10 or 20,000 years, sort of human history known human history. And you you’re going back 450 million years, I think you said there so further at times. So you know, the context of these time spans is just unimaginable, I think for many.

Adam Yates 11:21
It really is. You have to start using all sorts of mental tricks like say compressing geological time, down into a single year. And then you get all sorts of odd things like human history, then compresses down to like a half a second before the stroke of midnight on the last day of the year. And for most of that year, there wasn’t even any multicellular life, it was just stromatolites and bacteria. And then everything’s happening right at the very end. So that’s one way of trying to sort of understand the vastness of geological time. One of the analogies I use when I give my public talks is to talk about writing the history on a page so that every if you imagine a sheet of single a4, white typing paper, and you write the history of the year on that piece of paper, so within a thin book of 200 years, you’ve written the history of European colonization in Australia, then you need a stack of books. 60,000 pages thick, which is probably would be a stack of books that would take you above the roof of just about any building you get to be in to write Aboriginal history into Australia. If you want to start getting back to say even the beginnings of the megafauna at Alcoota million years ago, you need a stack of books that’s getting up to where Qantas jets fly. And beyond that you’re talking ridiculous lengths stretching out into the solar system to understand things like 450 million.

Travis Holland 13:00
And it’s incredibly hard to you know, in addition to trying to conceive of these ideas, it’s also incredibly hard to study them because it’s continually changing through geologic processes. You know, one of my other interests is in space science. And I listen to NASA scientists, and they’re talking about billions of years and being able to study, the history in billions of years on Mars and whatnot, because it barely changes. Yeah, compared to Earth.

Adam Yates 13:27
Yeah, that’s what makes Earth it’s such a special place. It is dynamism. It is geologically active. And it’s quite probable that we wouldn’t simply have life and evolution if it wasn’t so active.

Travis Holland 13:42
That energy transfer is one of the things that possibly brought us to be here today. So yeah, fantastic. Could you tell me I’m going to jump right back to the start of the interview, you described your professional role. You said, You’re a paleontologist, how did you get into that field?

Adam Yates 14:00
Look, it’s a passion that I have pursued since I was five years old. I was one of those children who become entranced with dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are the gateway drug into paleontology. And I simply never gave up on it, which is a difficult career path to choose, because paleontology jobs are very thin on the ground. And so it is one a path that is often filled with uncertainty. And it is a bit of a gamble to to say, I’m going to pursue paleontology, but at least if anyone is passionate, or even very interested, you can at least pursue a science degree. And even if you don’t get into paleontology, that science degree will give you skills that can take you in other directions.

Travis Holland 14:58
I know a lot of people with with paleontology, backgrounds, all the backgrounds that are suited to paleontology, they ended up working for, you know, mining companies in mineral exploration and that kind of thing, because it’s very interrelated science.

Adam Yates 15:12
Yeah. Yes. Although I found that with paleontology, there’s a sort of a divide in geology, like when I was doing my undergrad geology is what they call hard rock and soft rock. So a lot of the mining company in mineral exploration that was very much on the hardrock side of things, sort of metamorphic, igneous mineralization, that kind of geological science, whereas Paleontology is very concerned with the soft rock domain, that is, sedimentary rocks, so depositional environments where sands and muds and layers come to accumulate and incorporate fossils into them. So of course, the exploration for oil was very much in the field of soft rock geology. But I feel now that fossil fuel exploration has had its day. It’s very much something that we shouldn’t be leaving behind now.

Travis Holland 16:08
Yeah, fair enough. And could you tell me just a little bit more if you want to about your career history, how you sort of found your way into the role that you’re in now?

Adam Yates 16:17
Okay. It was by moving around a lot going wherever a job would take me. So I did after finishing a PhD, took on a postdoc, which took me to England, Bristol, so I lived there for a couple of years. And then another postdoc in South Africa, where, by chance, I position a lecturing position at a university opened up. And so I actually was lucky enough to find full time employment, lecturing in South Africa, in Johannesburg city. I never ever in my wildest dreams imagined I’d end up living in. And then after a strong desire to return to Australia, a position as that I have here, the curator position at the with the Museum and Art Gallery in the Northern Territory became available, and I was very lucky enough to get that position. And so here I am.

Travis Holland 17:27
Fantastic. I was reading a little bit about Megafauna Central. This is a facility that you have in Alice Springs, what’s?

Adam Yates 17:33
That is correct. Yes, yep. Okay, so Megafauna Central is built to showcase this significant site that I’ve already mentioned, Alcoota, this 8 million year site that shows the beginnings of Australian megafauna, not the culmination that happened much more recently in time. So it consists of a public gallery, which is free entry. So if you’re in Alice Springs, and you got a half a day or so or even just a few hours to kill, come in, we’re out on the road in the city center on Todd Street, and you can come and see a display of the for the best of the fossils that we found at Alcoota, so a range of all the different species. It’s not just the crocodile and the giant bird that I’ve mentioned, there are a range of early mammals that are related to things like Diprotodon and Thylacoleo, on and Palorchestes. So all these creatures that are known from the Ice Age megafauna have these earlier antecedents in Alcoota and so you can come and see those.

So it sounds like quite a collection and a really nice facility for a town like Alice Springs, I think,

yeah, it’s quite amazing. ALICE Springs is not a large town. And yet it has to employed palaeontologists, which is quite a ratio of given the the size of the population of Alice Springs.

Travis Holland 19:10
One thing I’m really loving about this podcast and the people I’ve spoken to is I’ve actually focused strongly on the regional museums. And so I had some interviewees from Winton in Queensland at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs. And, and so the curator here at the Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum in Bathurst, where I’m based in New South Wales. And it does seem that these kinds of jobs tend to, you know, people think about the big signature museums, the Queensland Museum and the Australian Museum. But actually, there’s a lot of opportunity and a lot of work in this kind of role in regional towns, which I think is fantastic.

Adam Yates 19:50
Yeah. And that’s, that’s a newish development that didn’t exist when I was looking. You know, when I was in my early, late teens and early 20s and contemplating a career in paleontology, those these regional museums simply weren’t around then. So it’s an interesting development

Travis Holland 20:10
Is it about do you think, wanting to locate the fossils and the findings more in contexts where they’ve where they’ve come from?

Adam Yates 20:21
That is certainly part of what’s happening, that people have begun setting up local museums right next to famous sites, or near near famous sites, rather than taking everything to the big centers, the big capital cities, were in the past, going back even further, everything was coming out of Australia and going to say, for instance, the British Museum. It’s sort of like the culmination of a trend away from that.

Travis Holland 20:55
There was a paper that made a splash recently by I think, Brazilian and Mexican academics. And they were talking about colonialism in paleontology. And what they meant by that was the arrival of American and European teams hoovering up fossils, and then taking them back across the oceans.

Adam Yates 21:18
Yeah, it’s a problem, particularly for poor nations. In that there is this black market, they can often have very strong laws, preventing or not preventing, but making it illegal to export fossils, I understand that it’s illegal to take fossils out of Brazil entirely. But it still happens. And a lot of very significant fossils are still finding their way into European institutions.

Travis Holland 21:48
Well, it was, I was drawing a parallel in my thinking to, to those exact sort of, you know, the even the Metro facilities coming out the big institutions coming to the smaller regions and hoovering things up as well.

Adam Yates 22:05
yeah, they’re at a point, you can’t go to the complete extreme, for instance, I don’t think it would be sensible to house the Alcoota collection at Alcoota itself, sure, it’s simply too remote, they would not get the proper care and attention that they would require, you know, for instance, the fossils have are quite delicate. And they need to be kept in a climate controlled environment. So I think Alice Springs is a nice compromise. They’re, they’re only two and a half hours drive away from where they came from. And then much more accessible then, because the other thing is, we do want to show these to as many people as want to see them. And so our springs is obviously a very accessible place, it’s not so remote, that you have to charter an expedition to get to Alice Springs, you know, it’s just as easy as getting on a plane or a bus and get coming here. So they are available for and these are significant heritage items for all Australians to come and see.

Travis Holland 23:12
And Alice is one of those, I guess, bucket list towns that everybody wants to visit at some point.

Adam Yates 23:18
Yeah, I think so we’ve got a little route just down the road. So four hour and a half hours down the road, but

Travis Holland 23:25
it’s just down the road on the on the Australian scale anyway. Exactly. I don’t know what the Americans and Europeans think of that one. But it’s, it’s always just down the road for us.

I really appreciate this conversation of getting into the sort of relationship with local communities and things like that. I think it’s really important to address those those aspects of, of the work. Yeah, the cultural end. In some ways, that’s what Fossils and Fiction is about, what is the cultural and the scientific engagement, these fossils and where do those things intersect? So and that idea of relationship between the landscape and the people that live there and the fossils that come from those sites.

Adam Yates 24:18
Yeah, and that’s something we’re working on. I mentioned that we are doing another excavation there later this year. The site itself actually sits within Aboriginal freehold land. So we are working hard to engage the community, the local community in Alcoota and we’ve had some success with engaging the local community’s art centre, so they have their own art center. They have indigenous artists, who have now been begun producing megafauna inspired Aboriginal artworks, which you can actually buy at the Art Center in a little community called Engawala, which is literally just a stone’s throw from the Alcoota fossil site, or you can buy them within our shop at Megafauna Central in Alice Springs.

Travis Holland 25:22
And that kindof economic engagement, I think is really important as well. It helps to develop the comunities.

Adam Yates 25:28
Absolutely, yes.

Travis Holland 25:32
Now, I know that you’re specifically interested in prehistoric crocodiles. So we’ve talked a little bit about some of the crocodiles from Alcoota. But tell me about your favorite crocs?

Adam Yates 25:42
Well, I’d have to say, I’ve already talked a little bit about my favorite because this Baru species from Alcoota, which as I said, is not yet named, but the monograph is written. So the paper is written, it’s just going through some co authors, it’ll should hopefully be submitted within a matter of weeks to a journal, so hopefully, not too long. Definitely. By midway through next year, it’ll actually be a published species. So that we’ve got a lot of material from Alcoota. We have several skulls, most of the skeleton, and lots and lots of the armour plates that covered this animal. And because the site is relatively low diversity, there’s only two species of crocodile in it, we can actually quite clearly sort out the two different sorts. And so we can actually be very confident that we are referring all these bones to the right species and actually do a pretty good reconstruction. It’s one of the most complete speci- or complete species of the endemic Australian radiation of crocodiles. A lot of people don’t realize that the crocodiles that we have living in Australia now are recent newcomers. They’re probably not more than a few million years old. So if we go back 8 million years, or 15 or 20 million years, there’s a range of other crocodiles that lived in Australia. These are called mekosuchines. Now, mekosuchines are completely extinct. Unfortunately, I think they’re fascinating animals. And this Baru from Alcoota is the most complete mekosuchine that we have.

Travis Holland 27:32
What’s the when you say that the modern crocodiles relatively new species, do you mean that they are relatively new in evolutionary terms or that they migrated to Australia?

Adam Yates 27:43
Both actually. So both Australian species of crocodile that live – are members of the genus Crocodylus. Now, Crocodylus is pretty recent. In fact, I think the oldest crocodylus fossils, are probably no more than four or five, or possibly 6 million years old at the latest. So they’re not any older than the human lineage since, in fact, they probably Crocodylus evolved at about the same time that our own lineage diverged from chimpanzees. So they’re that recent. And they probably did that somewhere around Africa and have spread throughout the world from there. So it’s actually a recent radiation quite a spectacular one. And the two crocodiles, Crocodylus species, the Freshy, and the salty that we have in Australia have reached here in relatively recent times.

Travis Holland 28:45
Yeah, great. And I think that’s important to tease out because people often think about crocodiles. You know, we hear this line that crocodiles are ancient creatures, actually. They are but…

Adam Yates 28:58
That’s a gross oversimplification, that papers over a lot of fascinating history. And so by saying that you actually then erase all that interesting history that I talked about with crocodylus evolving recently, and then spreading quite rapidly throughout the tropics, going from Africa, into Asia and Australia, and also going the other way into the Americas. And all doing doing that all in, in a relatively short space of time.

Travis Holland 29:28
And there were some other recent papers going jumping back to dinosaurs. There were some other recent papers looking at the aquatic nature of some well known dinosaurs the Spinosaurids

Adam Yates 29:40
Yeah, yeah. So we’re learning more not just about how they’re related to each other, but also how they live when I was a kid, or even a little bit earlier than that. A lot of dinosaur groups are thought to be semi aquatic. You know, you had your sauropod your Brontosaurus lumbering around in swamps so you know your classic reconstruction for a kid’s book would have it half submerged in a swamp eating snails or something.

Travis Holland 30:06
It was thought because of its weight it had to be in water.

Adam Yates 30:10
Yeah, buoyed up by water and then you had things like duck bills that probably were thought to be aquatic just because their bill was shaped a bit like a duck’s. Very little else. And so it took the sort of dinosaur rennsaissance and a good look at the paleobiology these animals and both sauropods, and duck bills, hadrosaurs were shifted firmly up onto land. So in fact, by the time I was in my teens and reaching young adulthood, dinosaurs were pretty much entirely at least non avian dinosaurs were pretty entirely dryland creatures, like they would be almost water phobic. There were no aquatic ones, which is surprising because they were such a diverse group that existed for such a long time. Surely some taxa some species were evolving towards an aquatic lifestyle. And sure enough, it’s starting to look quite, quite convincing that Spinosaurus were at least semi aquatic.

Travis Holland 31:10
It sounds like you’ve read the papers. So I hope that is the case. But I was funny. I thought in that paper, they suggested that Suchomimus, which of course is the crocodile, like, I think in terms of its name, perhaps wasn’t as aquatic as the Spinosaurus and the Baryonyx.

Adam Yates 31:26
I think that particular paper, they may have been reading a little bit too much into just their one particular metric. So when I’m talking about an aquatic Spinosaurus, I’m not just talking about that one metric, I’m talking about a whole host of different things. That you know, the pacheosty of the limbs, the incredible shortness of the hind limbs, and the the paddle like tail, the fact that the snout seems to be very well designed for fish eating, etc, and the placement of the nostril so and it’s more of the constellation of features that indicate yes, Spinosaurus was pretty at home, in and around water. Whereas that paper concentrated on just one single aspect bone compactness in the femur, or I think mostly the femur, they used other bones for other species. And there’s been a rebuttal paper released since then I don’t think it’s actually peer reviewed, published yet. It’s still in preprint. But it does take a cold look at that idea. And it may be that they were probably drawing a little bit too long a bow with regards to making Suchomimus. so radically different in Biology from, say, for instance, Baryonyx, which is so similar, that they virtually can’t be distinguished,

Travis Holland 32:52
that they’re very close cousins. I’ll put all of these papers up in the show notes for anyone who wants to do some more reading say, Thank you for indulging me on that little debate there. To draw the interview toward a close. Could you tell me, Adam, based on your work and your expertise, one of the key facts that people should know about pre human life on this continent?

Adam Yates 33:18
Out of all the things that I know, what are the key facts? Pre human life on this continent?

Travis Holland 33:25
I went to say prehistoric? And then I thought that a prehistoric in itself is a sort of colonialist term.

Adam Yates 33:31
It is yeah. Because like, do I mean, the Indigenous Australians certainly have a history, it’s not necessarily written down in books in our language. There is a history there. So it you know, and then when you get down to it, history is just time. It’s all the things that have happened. So there is no pre history. But anyway, okay, so prehuman I would say that one of the facts that is probably most startling, and important to understanding Australia is it’s not the way the way Australia is now is not the way it’s always been. We may think of ourselves as a very dry continent. But in fact, that is geologically relatively recent. For a long time, we have been a quite cool wet continent, where say, So for something like South Western Tasmania, the climate, the conditions, there might be a better model for what the whole of Australia used to be like, then what the centre of Australia is like now.

Travis Holland 34:41
That’s actually a really, really nice point. I think, because people look at the continent, they say, yeah, it’s dry. It’s always been dry, but no, not the case.

Adam Yates 34:51
Definitely not the case.

Travis Holland 34:53
And with the seas, the seas, the multiple seas and the lakes and everything we talked about. There is a plethora of marine life that is perhaps a little bit studied and maybe not available in many other parts of the world?

Adam Yates 35:09
The thing about marine life is seas are all connected, and marine life can swim. So you don’t get quite the amount of isolation that you get, say for instance, with terrestrial animals being stranded on islands, or Island continents, where they can evolve in their own unique and unusual way. So that’s happened in Australia, happened in Madagascar, probably happened in India until it collided with Asia, it probably happened in Antarctica until it all got frozen off. So whereas marine life can disperse between different seas, so this degree of endemism, which is a word meaning, you know, unique to a particular spot, isn’t quite as apparent. It still happens. For instance, in modern Australia, the southern shelf, the is a marine realm that has a high degree of endemism. It’s got all sorts of different marine life that can’t be found elsewhere. And because that Southern shelf of Australia has been somewhat isolated, but there’s more chance for dispersal for creatures to hop in and out. So it won’t find quite the degree of endemism that you say, for instance, find on an island or something like that. So but yeah, we’ve got marine marine records here, which are fantastic and fascinating. And they’re all part of the story.

Travis Holland 36:44
I know I said I was gonna draw this to a close. But then something you mentioned there started to draw me up. You mentioned Antarctica. And Antarctic, people often don’t think of Antarctic paleontology. But actually, there have been quite a few important fossil finds on on Antarctica.

Adam Yates 37:05
Oh yeah, there’s a lot. It’s tough to work in Antarctica, obviously, it’s covered in ice. So we’re looking for those places where the ice cover has thinned right down and the rocks poke through. So there are these these do happen. There are places that along the trans Antarctic mountains, you can find rock outcrops, but of course, getting there requires a lot more than just getting into your ute and packing some camping gear and some pickaxes and chisels. It’s a large outlay of money and resources to get paleontologists onto Antarctica and to the site. So there’s been relatively little paleontological exploration of Antarctica. But what has happened, has produced some fascinating results. And one of those results is that just like Australia, Antarctica has not been the way it is now. All the way back in its past. In fact, you don’t have to go back very far, probably no more than 4 million years. And you’ve got evidence of terrestrial life on the continent of Antarctica, the ice caps, a relatively new feature that unfortunately, has probably erased, what would have been a completely unique and fascinating biota.

Travis Holland 38:37
Because the continent has been isolated. All right, I just wanted to because thinking about Australia’s place as a sort of Antarctic power, I guess you’re playing.

Adam Yates 38:51
Australia is strongly tied to Antarctica. So I talked about our southern modern southern marine continental shelf being a relatively unique area. Well, that shelf used to be shared with Antarctica because Australia used to be joined to Antarctica and our Southern shelf opened up when Australia started drifting north woods away from Antarctica. So initially, that would have been a narrow Gulf. And so what you found on the southern shores of Australia, you would find on the opposite shore along Antarctica, but as the two drifted further and further apart, Antarctica obviously got colder and colder. And it completely changed. And now the two shelves are widely separated and have completely different biotas on the,

Travis Holland 39:47
Adam, thank you so much for indulging my my little pursuits down various mazes of paleontology over over geologic history.

Adam Yates 39:56
Oh, that’s a pleasure.

Travis Holland 39:58
What’s the best way for people to find out more about your work or if they want to visit if they want to visit Megfauna Central?

Adam Yates 40:06
Probably just jump on the web and search for the Museum and Art Gallery the Northern Territory, MAGNT. And yeah, that can give you directions opening times and that to to see proud to come out to come and see Megafauna Central.

Travis Holland 40:25
And so if you’re ever in Alice Springs, make sure to look it up. Dr. Adam Yates, thank you so much for joining Fossils and Fiction.

Adam Yates 40:32
Oh, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you very much.

Travis Holland 40:43
Thank you to Adam Yates from the Museum and Art gallery of the Northern Territory. To find out more about the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, visit Thank you for listening to the Fossils and Fiction podcast produced by me Travis Holland with the support of Charles Sturt University. The podcast theme music is Sonora by Quincas Moreia via the YouTube Audio Library. Find more content on our social media channels, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Tiktok. Show notes are available on the website You can subscribe to the podcast on all major podcasting platforms.

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