A bizarre type of giant land turtle thought to have gone extinct 50,000 years ago survived until recently on at least one small Pacific island.
Dozens of bones found in a 3,000-year-old archaeological site on Vanuatu belong to a previously-undescribed species of meiolaniid, a turtle family that evolved 50 million years ago and resembled walking fortresses.
“This group of turtles is not known to have survived into the presence of humans. Now we can say that they met,” said paleontologist Trevor Worthy of Australia’s University of New South Whales.
The shell of one early meiolaniid species, known from fossils recovered in South America and named Stupendemys for its size, was 11 feet long and seven feet wide. The more modern Meiolania platyceps, found in Australia and Melanesia, had a relatively small five-foot-diameter shell, and weighed an estimated half-ton. All had armored club tails and horned heads