Preparation of ‘Cooper’s’ bones at the Plevna Downs preparation lab

by Joanne Wilkinson, Senior Fossil Preparator and Conservator

The Mackenzie family, on their remote South West Queensland property between 2004 and 2006, had discovered a total of six dinosaur sites.  With so many sites to explore, the family invited palaeontologists Dr Scott Hocknull and Alex Cook, and fossil preparator Joanne Wilkinson to assist with the investigation of one of the most interesting sites. It was on this dig in 2006 that a very large partial left humerus (upper arm bone) of a titanosaur was discovered.

This was the first of many large dinosaur bones that would be discovered at the site over the following years. In 2021 they were described by Dr Scott Hocknull as bones of the largest dinosaur found in Australia, Australotitan cooperensis, nicknamed Cooper.

But before Scott could study the bones they had to be carefully removed from the ground, transported to a laboratory, cleared of dirt and rock then strengthened with gules and supported in cradles. These processes of fossil preparation, conservation and curation require special skills.

The Mackenzie family with the Queensland Museum team excavating Cooper’s left humerus in 2006. Image Jo Wilkinson

The Mackenzie’s were keen to learn all the techniques used to excavate, jacket and prepare bones for study and soon created a preparation laboratory in one of the sheds on their property. The lab was complete with compressed air, pneumatic tools and solid tables big enough to hold the heavy bones. Now it was just a matter of training.

In October 2006 Joanne Wilkinson conducted the first of seven preparation workshops at the Plevna Downs Preparation Laboratory between 2006 and 2010. The training workshops, supported by funding from the Queensland Museum Board, demonstrated a strong commitment by Queensland Museum to support the Eromanga dinosaur project.

2007 Preparation workshop participants. Photo -unknown.

Approximately 20 participants including locals from the Quilpie/ Eromanga community and Queensland Museum volunteers from Brisbane participated in the workshops. This collaboration ensured that skills were passed on to members of the local community who were best placed to continue the preparation work. Jo Pegler and Robyn Mackenzie are now experienced preparators at the Eromanga Natural History Museum and supervise many visitors who come to learn and enjoy the art of fossil preparation.

Many enthusiastic people assisted with the preparation of Coopers’ bones, both in Eromanga and at the Queensland Museum preparation laboratory in Brisbane. All worked tirelessly to exposed details of the bone surfaces, including muscle attachments and evidence of crushing and distortion. Now these amazing bones are scientifically described and on display in the Eromanga Natural History Museum in the region where they were discovered. What a wonderful effort by everyone involved.

Jo Pegler, Fossil Preparator ENHM in 2006. Photo Jo Wilkinson

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