Australian state rich in intact fossils

A hovercraft is the only sign of modernity on a beach filled with some of the world’s best-preserved prehistoric fossils at Australia’s isolated north-west coast.
A hovercraft is the only sign of modernity on a beach filled with some of the world’s best-preserved prehistoric fossils at Australia’s isolated north-west coast.PHOTO: JONATHAN PEARLMAN

In a remote part of north-east Australia, Mr Sandy Mackenzie was helping gather sheep on his parents' farm when he came across a strange rock. 

Looking closer, he realised it might be a fossil and handed it to a local museum. 

"I saw a rock and it looked a bit different to every other rock out there," he told ABC News.

 
 

The discovery in 2004 turned out to be part of an Australian dinosaur and triggered waves of further finds in the south-west of Queensland state, making it one of the world's richest regions of intact dinosaur fossils. 

The finds in Queensland included the fossils of a long-necked, plant-eating Titanosaur which is Australia's biggest dinosaur and is believed to have lived over 90 million years ago. Nicknamed Cooper, it was about 25m to 30m long. 

Palaeontologist Scott Hocknull, a senior curator at the Queensland Museum, told The Straits Times he was confident Cooper belonged to a new species.

"There is very good evidence that it is new and different," he said. 

Cooper is set to go on display at a new museum, the Eromanga Natural History Museum, in the tiny rural town of Eromanga in Queensland. Seven dinosaur skeletons have been found around the area. 

Experts believe fossils in Australia have often been rarer and harder to find than in other countries because it has less extreme weather events and tectonic activity.

Dr Hocknull said: "The fossils are harder to get at but when we do, they are absolutely pristine and amazing specimens."

Large numbers of fossils have also been found around the town of Winton, about 700km north of Eromanga. Winton has also launched a museum, called the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum. Visitors pay to join two or three annual week-long digs for dinosaur bones.

A recent visitor, Ms Yvonne Hampton, 72, said the experience of unearthing prehistoric remains left her feeling "extraordinarily young".

"When I'm dealing with something 95 million years old, I feel almost child-like," she told Queensland's Courier-Mail.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2015, with the headline 'Australian state rich in intact fossils'. Print Edition | Subscribe