The Perth Mint has launched a new series of coins featuring Australian megafauna.
The term (mega meaning ‘very large’ – fauna meaning ‘animals’) describes a range of super-sized vertebrates – animals with backbones – that emerged after the dinosaurs. Favoured by conditions at that time, they were able to grow much larger than is common today.
Megafauna did not only exist in Australia. Woolly mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers are legendary examples that roamed other parts of the world.
Australia’s unique megafauna included:
- Procoptodon – at up to three metres tall, the largest kangaroo known
- Diprotodon – sometimes referred to as the giant wombat
- Genyornis – a colossal flightless bird with great long running legs
- Thylacoleo – a carnivorous marsupial that weighed well over 100kg
- Megalania – the largest land lizard ever to live in Australia
Many megafauna species became extinct during the Pleistocene, an epoch that lasted until around 12,000 years ago. There are several theories behind their disappearance, meaning we’re not entirely sure what happened.
Plentiful evidence for their existence, however, is found in limestone caves across Australia. These caves were formed when water dissolved soft rock beneath the surface. Eventually their roofs started collapsing, creating sink-holes that were deadly traps for unsuspecting animals.
Some of the most famous caves are located at Naracoorte in South Australia. They acted as pitfall traps for hundreds of thousands of years, becoming huge depositories for all sorts of animal remains – including extinct megafauna.
Since 1969, palaeontologists have excavated and dated many fossils from Naracoorte, which was officially recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994.
Visualising megafauna today
Today, we can visualise with astonishingly accuracy what Australian megafauna looked like thanks to the work of highly-skilled paleo-illustrators such as Peter Trusler, who goes to extraordinary lengths to create authentic imagery.
Often faced with only fragmentary evidence from the fossil record, Peter compares his role to that of a detective looking for clues. At the outset of each illustration, he spends much time researching literature, visiting museums and talking to scientific experts to create an understanding of the context in which the animal lived and behaved.
Combining these considerations with physical fossil evidence, Peter painstakingly builds up a representation of the animal’s skeleton. Drawn from several angles, his sketches provide a good appreciation of its three-dimensional shape.
In collaboration with anatomists, these images can be equated to modern animals, enabling him to start to understand the types of muscle systems that attached and operated over these bone surfaces. “So gradually, I’m piecing together the muscles to flesh it out to give you an idea of the shape of the living animal,” says Peter.
All in all, it is a lengthy process that invariably takes longer to investigate than it does to produce the final artwork.
“It may take me six months to talk to the scientists, read the literature, visit the museums and pull all that work together to get an idea of what I should do in the final painting,” he says. “After that, it may only take me a month or two to do the actual painting!”
Peter’s rigorous, multi-disciplinary approach has won many plaudits; his work has been published around the world in books and journals, on posters and on stamps. Collections of his magnificent art pieces are held in both national and international archives, most notably the Australia Post Philatelic Collection in Melbourne, Museum Victoria, also in Melbourne, and the National Geographic Society Collection, Washington.
Now his stunning illustrations of Megafauna also appear on a collectable series of Australian coins.
Win a framed megafauna sketch signed by the artist
The Perth Mint is offering collectors the chance to take out a subscription to all five coins in the Australian Megafauna Series.
A subscription guarantees collectors availability of all five coins and offers two more attractive benefits:
- automatic entry to a free draw for one of two framed sketches signed by the artist, Peter Trusler. (Eligible subscriptions must be taken out by Monday 11 November 2013 – see Terms and Conditions.)
- a complimentary five-coin plastic presentation sleeve in which to protect and display the entire series. (Shipped with the third coin in March 2014.)
Download the subscription order form or call 1300 663 991 to arrange a subscription now.