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Sir David Attenborough

One of the Great Wonders

of the paleontological world

Sir David Attenborough (renowned presenter, nature documentary-maker, biologist, natural historian, conservationist, naturalist) regards Riversleigh as one of the great wonders of the palaeontological world – and has visited the site to feature Riversleigh in his BBC documentary series.

Here is his letter in 2019 on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the fossil deposits of Riversleigh being inscribed on the World Heritage List:

“Riversleigh is one of the great wonders of the palaeontological world. What other site has produced such an extraordinary assemblage of mammals, birds, reptiles and many other creatures hitherto completely new to science. Not just one or two species but literally hundreds of them. And not just new but undreamed of. Who would have dared to imagine herds of marsupials the size of sheep grazing in the treetops while hanging upside down like sloths?  

Sir David Attenborough at Riversleigh filming BBC TV’s The Life of Mammals

These revelations are the more remarkable when it is remembered that the difficulty of preparing Riversleigh specimens is also almost unparalleled. But that very difficulty has brought its own reward. It has preserved not just the bones and teeth of these prehistoric animals, but even soft tissues, in fact so perfectly preserved that actual cells can be seen. Astoundingly, even structures within these cells, like the nucleus that once contained the animals’ ancient DNA, have also been recovered from Riversleigh’s rocks.

And just as importantly, Riversleigh’s fossils are making it possible to determine how to save one of the rarest of surviving marsupials, the Mountain Pygmy-possum, a critically endangered alpine marsupial now threatened with extinction because of global warming. Understanding the deep time history of this possum’s lineage recorded in the Riversleigh rocks has now made it possible to devise a strategy by which the surviving species may be saved. As a result, Riversleigh fossils, while extraordinary in their own right, are now teaching us how to rescue the living.

Will the revelations of Riversleigh ever come to an end? My bet is there are lots more to come and that the next twenty-five years of research into the resources of these World Heritage-listed fossil deposits will add far more to Riversleigh’s already extraordinary story.”