Giant lemurs went extinct at some point in the last 2,000 years—but in a newly-discovered “lemur graveyard," they're still a jaw-dropping presence. A team of divers found hundreds of giant lemur skeletons—along with fossils from other extinct species—in an underwater cave deep beneath a Madagascar national park.
Scientists think that the giant lemurs found in the cave washed in over time, National Geographic reports. There, they decomposed in a relatively peaceful environment that left the skeletons marvelously intact. Because the skeletons are so well-preserved, they offer an “unprecedented look” at a species—lemurs so huge, they are being compared to gorillas.
Scientists hope to use the information yielded by the giant lemur cache to shed new light on the now-extinct species. It is estimated that there were up to 50 species of lemur living on Madagascar when the island became populated by humans, but only 33 survive. And while some believe humans hunted giant lemurs into oblivion, recent research on their DNA suggests a small population size may have been to blame—which means the underwater find is even more precious to researchers.
And the lemur bones represent only one find in the underwater graveyard. Scientists also uncovered the bones of an extinct elephant bird and representatives of a long list of other species, from rodents to ancient crocodiles. They believe even more skeletons might be buried under the sea floor. Alfred Rosenberger, an anthropologist and archaeologist who led the international team of cave divers and paleontologists, said in a release that the project is only just getting started:
This is the success of just phase one.…[The discovery is] the beginning of a complex international project that has a lot of long, hard work in store.