Fossils of the largest rat ever known to have existed were discovered during an expedition in East Timor, according to archaeologists with The Australian National University (ANU).
The biggest-ever find was part of a collection of newly found fossils representing seven new species of giant rat.
"They are what you would call mega-fauna," explained ANU lead researcher Julien Louys in a press release. "The biggest one is about five kilos [11 pounds], the size of a small dog."
"Just to put that in perspective," he added, "a large modern rat would be about half a kilo [1 pound]."
The fossil finds occurred under the aegis of a project Louys is leading to learn more about the earliest movement of humans in Southeast Asia. He said the giant rats lived among East Timor's first humans some 46,000 years ago, based upon the discovery of rat bones from the time that had cut and burn marks on them.
East Timor's humans went on to live with the giant rats for thousands of years. But then, about one thousand years ago, the supersized rats disappeared. Why?
"The reason we think they became extinct is because that was when metal tools started to be introduced in Timor," said Louys. "People could start to clear forests at a much larger scale."
Louys presented his findings at a recent Meetings of the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology gathering in Texas.