Australian dinosaur fossils prompt a rethink

  • July 06, 2009
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This is an illustration of the Diamantinasaurus matildae courtesy T. Tischler.

Recent dinosaurian fossil discoveries in Australia have earned the continent a place alongside Africa and the Americas in palaeontological history. Until recently, Australia’s prehistoric significance was doubted as few dinosaur fossils have ever been found there.

Excavations held between 2006 and 2009 in Queensland, Australia, have led to the discovery of hundreds of fossils that have confirmed the prehistoric existence of large dinosaurs in the region. The fossils date back 98-million years and were found in one of Australia’s “billabongs”.

According to Dr Scott Hocknull, a palaeontologist involved in the excavation, the fossils reveal three new dinosaur species: two herbivores and a carnivore.

The herbivores, both titanosaurs, are among the largest dinosaurs to have lived, reaching lengths of 16 to 18 m (52 to 59 ft) and weighing between 15,400 and 20,000 kg (34,000 and 44,000 lb).

According to www.abc.net.au, Hocknull suggests that the Wintonotitan wattsi, nicknamed Clancy, would have resembled a giraffe as it was “16 m (52 ft) high with a long neck and small head”. The Diamantinasaurus matildae, nicknamed Matilda, is likely to have had hippo-like qualities.

Scientists are excited about the discovery of the carnivore Australovenator wintonensis, which Hocknull describes as “Australia’s answer to Velociraptor, but many times bigger and more terrifying”, according to www.ScienceDaily.com.

The dinosaur, nicknamed Banjo, is said to have been “the cheetah of its time”, swiftly running after its prey. Hocknull describes Banjo as “about 6 m (20 ft) long and 2 m (6.5 ft) high” and says it possessed “three large slashing claws on each arm”.

Matilda and Banjo were found buried together and while their cause of death is yet to be determined, Hocknull believes that the two died from the same cause.

The Australian finds are of great significance as the continent was previously thought to be unimportant in terms of dinosaur discoveries. There are as many as 50 sites in the region where Banjo, Matilda and Clancy were found which have yet to be excavated, so new discoveries are likely.

The fossils can be seen at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum in Brisbane.

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