What I’m most interested in, however, is this creature’s identity. It looks as if it would be right at home amid mythical beasts. Some scholars think it’s meant to depict the embryo of an echidna, which is certainly an obscure enough thing to make a sculpture of. You can see that this newborn echidna (called a puggle, because obviously we need a word that’s both cute and silly to describe such a creature)
shares our Ambum’s curved profile, nose, and tummy. Cryptozoologist Karl Shuker, however, points out that the Ambum sculpture’s ears, big round eyes, and defined neck (and lack of spines) are inconsistent with an echidna and suggests it could be a palorchestes. What’s a palorchestes, you ask? Sheesh, don’t you know anything? Well, it's a genus of terrestrial herbivorous marsupial with (paleontologists think) a long schnozz. You can see from the picture that this animal, too, bears a certain resemblance to the Ambum critter. Unfortunately, as far as any evidence goes, palorchestes lived only in Australia
and went extinct some 11,000 years ago. So, while it isn’t inconceivable that something in the genus lived in the wilds of Papua New Guinea until three or four thousand years ago, it’s a long shot.
Personally, I rather like the idea of the Ambum Stone representing some creature that really does look just like it, round eyes, round tummy, proboscis and all. I'm tempted to put such a creature in a story some time. The way it’s sitting makes me think it must be the size and temperament of a panda, mild-mannered but elusive, and out there still, somewhere in the dense, unexplored rainforests of New Guinea. You never know - surely it’s possible!
[Pictures: Ambum Stone, sculpture by anonymous artist, c 1500BCE (Image from National Gallery Australia);
Beau, short-beaked echidna puggle (Image from Taronga Zoo via ZooBorns);
Palorchestid, drawing by artist whose name I can’t make out (Image from Nova).]