Like most boys, I was absolutely fascinated by dinosaurs. But I never really grew out of that fascination. For a long time, in high school, I aspired to be a paleontologist. I went on fossil digs in my school holidays. My prize discovery was the massive femur of a Diprotodon, an extinct species of wombat the size of a hippopotamus. (No, I wasn’t allowed to keep it, sadly.)
Still, to a dinosaur-mad kid, Australia always seemed a bit, well, lacking. All the really exciting stuff, like the giant sauropods and Tyrannosaurs, always seemed to be in America.
The truth was that the best stuff in Australia was yet to be found. As it turns out, Australia has some truly remarkable fossils, from the Ediacara fossils from the dawn of complex life, in South Australia, to the sort of spectacular giants that fire kids’ imaginations.
Palaeontologists have uncovered the largest dinosaur found in Australia, a long-necked colossus that gives other huge dinosaurs from around the world a run in the heavyweight stakes.
The giant sauropod, now officially named Australotitan cooperensis in a new scientific paper, grew up to 30 metres long and up to six metres high at the hip, making it as long as a basketball court and two storeys tall.
Queensland Museum palaeontologist Scott Hocknull said that made Australotitan the largest dinosaur discovered in Australia, and among the largest discovered worldwide.
Not that it’s a competition, but, well, yes: this is not the largest dinosaur in the world. But it’s in the Top Ten.
Australotitan lived in the late Cretaceous period between 92 million and 96 million years ago, when Australia was still part of mega-continent Gondwana, and the region around central Australia was an inland sea.
The dinosaur was named Australotitan to reflect its huge size, with the name meaning “southern titan”. The second part of its name, cooperensis, refers to Cooper Creek, the area near the town of Eromanga in western Queensland where the fossils were discovered in 2007.
As I found, on those long-ago fossil digs, the first thing to remember about fossils is that they’re not bones. They’re bones which have been turned to stone. Which makes the fossil of a giant sauropod very heavy.
Dr Hocknull said they used state-of the art 3D modelling techniques to compare the bones, which due to their size and the fossilisation process turning them to stone meant they each weighed several hundred kilograms.
“We digitally scan the bones so that I can carry around thousands of kilos of dinosaur bones in my seven-kilo laptop,” he said.
“Using 3D scanning has revolutionised our field because once this research paper is out, researchers from across the globe can access those 3D models and compare all dinosaurs against one another”[…]
Eromanga Natural History Museum general manager Robyn Mackenzie said the publication of the official name and details of Australotitan meant Eromanga could now join Winton, also in western Queensland, as a centre for dinosaur fossil exploration.
The transition of Australia from a fossil wasteland to a centre of discovery mirrors world-wide trends. More fossils are being discovered every year, not fewer, as researchers explore previously ignored regions.
What remains to be found at Eromanga could be just as exciting as Australotitan. After all, plant-eating dinosaurs were just so much meat for predators like the iconic Tyrannosaurus. Australia has been a bit short on the exciting big, meat-eating dinosaurs. So far, anyway.
Dr Hocknull said there was every reason to believe more large dinosaurs were still out there, waiting to be uncovered.
“In other parts of the world where we’ve found these really huge plant-eating dinosaurs, we’ve also found huge theropod dinosaurs which preyed on them,” he said.
“We’ve found a couple of small theropod dinosaurs in Australia — Australovenator from the Winton area is one, it was about five to six metres long. But it wouldn’t have bothered Australotitan, which suggests there is a very large predatory dinosaur out there somewhere.
“We just haven’t found it yet.”The Age
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