Analysis of 100 million-year-old dinosaur bones from a sheep farm in central Queensland has confirmed the Australian dinosaur, Austrosaurus mckillopi, to be a distinct species.
The new research, published in the Alcheringa journal of palaeontology, puts to bed speculation about the dinosaur’s existence.
Swinburne palaeontologist Dr Stephen Poropat said before the new research not enough was known about or had been found of Austrosaurus mckillopi, causing fellow palaeontologists to often question if the dinosaur fossil was unique and deserved a species name.
But the 2014-2015 discovery of six ribs, coupled with a reassessment of the dinosaur’s backbone found at the site in the 1930s, has given researchers fresh information, allowing them to confirm Austrosaurus mckillopi is a distinct species.
Bird’s-eye view of the reconstructed Austrosaurus mckillopi site. Dr Stephen Poropat, Swinburne University
“With Austrosaurus mckillopi, we can now say it deserves to keep its name,” Dr Poropat said.
It becomes one of just 20 Australian dinosaurs with an official name.
But for the Australian and British palaeontology team, just finding the fossil site on the Clutha sheep station north west of Richmond in Queensland was a victory.
Lost since its discovery in the 1930s and with two previous searches in the 1970s and 1990s failing to find the dinosaur fossil, it took the local knowledge of Richmond Mayor John Wharton, who grew up on Clutha station, and some country-can-do to find the lost site Dr Poropat had first heard of in 2012 as a student in Sweden.
Mr Wharton remembered the two acacia posts of the sign erected at the fossil site by palaeontologists in the 1930s from his childhood but when he returned in 2014 he couldn’t find them, Dr Poropat said.
Not to be defeated, he used a helicopter to find the posts he was sure were still there but had just fallen over.
“And that’s how we found it, it’s quite remarkable to find dinosaur fossils from the air.”
A dig crew in 2015 watch as a council worker excavates the site. Dr Stephen Poropat, Swinburne University
Dr Poropat said Austrosaurus mckillopi was a 15-metre long barrel-chested herbivore with four column-like legs.
“Think an elephant’s body in size and shape but with a small head, long neck and a long tail.”
Sauropods like Austrosaurus mckillopis lived from 200 million to 66 million years ago but the fossil discovered at Clutha sheep station discovery is the only one of its kind.