Fossil find a ‘goldmine’ in Queensland

By AAP with AG staff 27 July 2012
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Scientists in Queensland have uncovered a fossil ‘goldmine’, but severe underfunding is hampering the project.

AN UNDER-FUNDED SCIENTIST studying a 500,000-year-old ‘fossil goldmine’ in Queensland hopes he can dig up enough funds to search nearby caves for similar discoveries.

Thousands of fossilised bandicoots, tree rats, frogs and even megafauna like giant kangaroos have been found underground on a remote property west of Townsville.

Palaeontologists believe the deposits, which were made public only this week, could provide important information about how ancient animals adapted to climate change.

University of Queensland palaeontologist Dr Gilbert Price, who is studying the find, says securing funding will be pivotal to how quickly he may be able to uncover more fossils in the area.

Fossil ‘goldmine’ needs research funding

But he isn’t hopeful any government will throw him a bone and is currently relying on a small team of volunteers. “It’s just me,” he said.

About 120kg of sediment analysed so far shows the ground is more dense in fossils than dirt, Gilbert said. “I think most of the other caves will also contain significant deposits.”

Amateur caver Douglas Irvin, who led Gilbert to the fossils, said he’s never seen anything like the deposit in his 30-year caving history.

He said Gilbert will need financial backing to establish its significance. “It’s just good basic research, if and when it gets done,” Douglas said.

“This scientist is literally scratching around in the dirt for money and it’s so hard for him to even get up there to the site.”

Tim Flannery praises fossil discovery

Head of Australia’s Climate Commission and fellow palaeontologist, Professor Tim Flannery, praised the discovery and agreed there was an acute lack of resources for scientists in the field.

“There’s been a massive decline in funding for palaeontology,” he said. “A couple of years ago there used to be a curator of fossils at every museum. It’s very, very sad.”

Until things change, Douglas said amateurs like him will continue to lend scientists a helping hand.

“We’ll find the stuff and put them on to it,” he said.