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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

More on Bunyip Bones

Drawing of the supposed Bunyip skull

A while ago I put up a post about a possible Bunyip skull found in 1846. While the skull was examined by multiple scientists, they each concluded that it was something different, thus it is likely that it was not readily identifiable. But the skull, however, may not be the only physical remains of a bunyip ever found.

In 1818, nearly 30 years before the strange skull was found, Hamilton Hume and James Meehan found some odd bones at Lake Bathurst, in New South Wales, Australia. They described the bones as like those of a hippo or a manatee. The Philosophical Society of Australia offered to reimburse Hume for any costs of capturing a live specimen of the animal, but he never returned to the lake where he and Meehan found the bones.

Some other, fossilized bones were found by George Rankin and Thomas Mitchell in the Wellington Caves in 1830. The bones were of "some quadruped much larger than the ox or buffalo." Reverend John Dunmore Land announced that the bones were "convincing proof of the deluge." Sir Richard Owen (who also examined the supposed skull), however, concluded that the bones were either those of a Diprotodon or Nototherium. (Make a note of this, as it will come up again later…)

Another interesting bit of this story is, at the same time the fossilized bones were found, settlers mentioned that "…all natives throughout these… districts have a tradition of a very large animal having at one time existed in the large creeks and rivers and by many it is said that such animals now exist."
A bunyip attacking

Fifteen years after the fossilized bones were found, on July 2, 1845, the word bunyip was first used in print, when the Geelong Advertiser ran an article on more mystery bones found near Geelong. The article was titled "Wonderful Discovery of a New Animal" and read:

"In our last number we give an account of the finding of a fragment of the knee joint of some gigantic animal, which, from there being no such animal hitherto known to exist in Australia, we supposed to be the fossil remains of some early period. Subsequent information, however; coupled with the fact that the bone was in good preparation, and had altogether a 'recent' appearance, has induced us to alter out opinion.
"One the bone being shown to an intelligent black, he at once recognized it as belonging to the 'Bunyip,' which he declared he had seen. On being requested to make a drawing of it, he did so without hesitation. The bone and the picture were then shown separately to different blacks who had no opportunity of communicating with each other; and they one and all recognized the bone and picture as belonging to the 'Bunyip,' repeating the name without variation. One declared he knew where the whole of the bones of one animal were to be found; another stated his mother was killed by one of them, at Barwon Lakes, within a few miles of Geelong, and that another woman was killed on the very spot where the punt crosses the Barwon at South Geelong. The most direct evident of all was that of Mumbowran, who showed several deep wounds on his breast made by the claws of the animal. Another statement was made, that a mare, the property of Mr Furlong, was, about six years ago, seized by one of these animals on the bank of the Little River, and only escaped with a broken leg. They say that the reason why no white man has ever yet seen it, is because it is amphibious, and does not come on land except on extremely hot days when it basks on the bank; but on the slightest noise or whisper they roll gently over into the water; scarcely creating a ripple. 
"We have adduced these authorities before giving a description of the animal, lest, from its strange, grotesque, and nondescript character, the reader should have at once set the whole down as fiction. The Bunyip, then, is represented as uniting the characteristics of a bird and of an alligator. It has a head resembling an emu with a long bill at the extremity of which there is a transverse projection on each side with serrated edges like the bone of the stingray. Its body and legs partake of the nature of the alligator. The hind legs are remarkably thick; and strong, and their fore legs are much longer, but still of great strength.  The extremities are furnished with long claws but the blacks say its usual method of killing its prey is by hugging it to death. When in the water it swims like a frog, and when on shore it walks on its hind legs with its head, erect, in which position it measures twelve or thirteen feet in height. Its breast is said to be covered with different colored feathers: but the probability is that the blacks have not had a sufficiently near view to ascertain whether its appearance  might not arise from hair or scales. They describe it as laying eggs of double the size of the emu's egg, of pale blue color, these eggs they frequently meet with, but as they are 'no good for eating,' the black boys set them up for a mark, and throw stones at them.
"We intend, in a few days, to give a lithographic facsimile of the drawing made by the Black, so that our bush readers may be enabled to question the blacks in their own neighborhood, and should any new facts be elicited, we shall take it as a favor in any one who may transmit an account of them to us for publication."

So there is the first mention of the "bunyip" in print. But I wonder what became of the bones found? (Also interesting is the mentioning of bunyips laying eggs!)
A very weird-looking bunyip...

So what are the bones from in these three reports? Earlier in this article I mentioned Sir Richard Owen, who thought that the fossilized bones found in 1930 were from a Dirpotodon and/or Nototherium. 
Diprotodon size, compared to a human

Diprotodon  is the largest known marsupial ever, having lived between 1.6 million years ago and 46,000 years ago. A few characteristics of Diprotodon match curiously with those of bunyips. For example - "…The largest specimens where hippopotamus-sized: about 3 meters (9.8 ft) from nose to tail, standing 2 meters (6.6 ft) tall at the shoulder and weighing about 2,790 kilograms (6,150 lb)." This is interesting because the Hume bones found in 1818 were described as "very much like a hippopotamus or manatee." Another interesting note is that Diprotodons "inhabited forest, woodlands, and grasslands, possibly staying close to water, (emphasis mine), and eating leaves, shrubs, and some grasses." What is also said to live in and near water? The bunyip.

*Nototherium was related to Diprotodon, and was similar in appearance.

Could the "bunyip" bones found in the 1800s be bones of Diprotodon? Quite possibly, they could, but it is interesting that the native people could described the creature and claimed to have seen it and that some of the bones were not fossilized. Maybe the bunyip is some sort of Diprotodon that has survived, or at least survived longer than they are known to have lived. The size and the bones sound similar, the habitat is similar, and I bet that a scared or angry Diprotodon wouldn't be too nice to a human. Maybe, just maybe, the bunyip is one of these creatures…

Diprotodon skull

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