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Nonsense, say her critics. They say the fossils have been moved from their original resting places and redeposited in younger sediments. Bert Roberts, a co-author with Flannery of a 2001 paper that argues for some kind of human causation in megafauna extinctions, has examined grains of sand at Cuddie and says he has found very young grains mixed among the supposedly older fossils. That tells him that the stratigraphy is not clear-cut.

"If you don't even know the order of events, it's worthless, a waste of time," Roberts says.

Rainer Grün, another Australian scientist who has dated fossils from the site, backs Roberts, saying Cuddie Springs is a bit disorderly: "This site shows clear signs of disturbance. And if it's disturbed, anything is possible. It's possible that the archaeological artifacts and the megafauna really do go together. I'm not denying that. You just can't make the case for it."

Field vigorously disputes that interpretation and argues that her critics are too wed to a human impact hypothesis for the megafauna extinctions.

Unfortunately, Cuddie Springs was completely flooded and unreachable when I visited Australia to report this story (not that I could have, in any case, refereed the stratigraphic dispute). Field and I decided to drive instead to another famous boneyard in the same general region, a place called Wellington Caves. We drove for five hours from Sydney, across the Blue Mountains through a pastoral country that looks much like the rolling coastal lands of central California. When we pulled into the Wellington Caves parking lot, we found it guarded by a fiberglass Diprotodon.

Diprotodon was most mega of the megafauna, the largest known marsupial ever to tread the Earth. Bulky and stubby-legged, Diprotodon seems forever fated to be described in museums as "lumbering."

We met Mike Augee, a scientist on-site who showed us the place where Diprotodon was first discovered. It's a wide hole in the ground, a curving vertical shaft through a limestone hill, covered with a metal grate.

"This is a sacred site in Australian paleontology," Augee said.

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