Dinosaur jackpot in Queensland

By Jenna Hanson 28 August 2012
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A new dig site with many bone fragments of multiple dinosaur species has been uncovered in Queensland.

BONES FROM A large, long-necked dinosaur and evidence of something more menacing have been found at a site in central Queensland.

Palaeontologists from the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum, the Queensland Museum and Uppsala University in Sweden have uncovered a number of large dinosaur bones at a dig site just west of the well-known dinosaur area of Winton.

So far, a femur and tibia have been identified as the fossilised remains of a sauropod and a number of other bones and fragments have been partially revealed.

“This is a very large sauropod dinosaur, but there are very unusual bone fragments in white siltstone nodules that point to the possibility of something else in the pit,” says David Elliott, founder of Australian Age of Dinosaurs. “This is so much like the ‘Matilda’ dig site that produced bones from the carnivorous dinosaur Australovenator that it is uncanny.”

The exciting discovery came at the end of the annual dig in the 98 million-year-old Winton Formation, which covers most of the Winton district.

Goldmine of dinosaur bones

Between 2006 and 2009, the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum uncovered two new species of dinosaur only a few kilometres from the current dig site, the predatory Australovenator wintonensis nicknamed ‘Banjo’ and the herbivorous Diamantinasaurus matildae nicknamed Matilda.

Sauropods, which include the well-known Brachiosaurus, are long-necked dinosaurs that can be traced back to the Late Triassic period, 250 million years ago.

Although the exact species of the sauropod is still unclear, David is hopeful the site will yield a high number of bones, especially considering the presence of bone pieces in white siltstone nodules, similar to those found near ‘Banjo’ in the previous dig.

“These small pieces of rounded down bone were actually like that before they were fossilised and we’re confident that they’re the partly digested remnants of Banjo’s stomach contents [from] his last meal,” says David. “The nodules in the new pit are very similar…which could be a sign we have the remains of another carnivore in the pit.”

Palaeontologist Stephen Poropat directs Milton Gosley and Harry Elliott excavate a large sauropod tibia. (Credit: AAOD)

Australia: the great dinosaur land

For palaeontologist Assistant Professor Ben Kear from Uppsala University, Australia is still the “great undiscovered country when it comes to dinosaurs”.

“We know so little about [Australia’s] ancient faunas and floras simply because there have historically been so few researchers working there, and still are,” he said.

Ben also believes that Australian dinosaurs have global significance because they represent an ancient high latitude ecosystem.

“Ninety-eight million years ago, Australia was much further south than it is today – indeed it was still attached to Antarctica,” says Ben. “The climate would also have been much wetter with lush forests of conifer trees and open areas dominated by ferns, cycads and early flowering plants.”

David agrees, and adds that the bones found in the sites in the Winton Formation are only “the tip of the iceberg so far”.  

** See David Elliott, lead Australian palaeontologist, talk about all things dinosaur at Harts Pub, 176 Cumberland St, The Rocks, Sydney at 6 pm on Monday 10 September**