by Mindy Weisberger
Rats as big as dachshunds once lived alongside humans — who frequently ate the robust rodents, according to a recent study.
Scientists on an expedition to the island nation of East Timor discovered fossils representing seven new species of giant rats, all larger than any species ever found. The biggest of them would have tipped the scales at 11 lbs. (5 kilograms), about 10 times as much as a modern rat, according to Julien Louys, a paleontologist and research fellow at the Australian National University, who presented the findings in October at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Calling the dig sites fossil-rich would be an understatement, Louys told Live Science. Over several years, researchers recovered thousands of bones belonging to an assortment of rat species. “Even in one 5-centimeter [1.9 inches] chunk of ground, you would usually find a dozen or half-dozen bones,” he said.
Based on evidence from other rat fossils on the island, Louys estimated the giant rats arrived about 1 million to 2 million years ago, though it’s difficult to say for sure. The earliest giant rat fossils were discovered in archaeological deposits dating back 46,000 years, suggesting the rats and humans lived together. Signs of burns and cut marks on the rat bones suggested humans were butchering the rats and cooking them for food.
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