Category Archives: Palaeontology

Discovering the world’s largest kangaroo – Part 2: In the lab

By Rochelle Lawrence, Palaeontological Research Assistant, and Scott Hocknull, Senior Curator, Geosciences, Queensland Museum 

The giant kangaroo tibia (shinbone) found at the megafauna fossil sites of South Walker Creek, travelled safely back to the Queensland Museum’s Geosciences collection. The specimen is treated like evidence for a case (fossil evidence!) and is processed through a series of stages from field collection (Part 1) and preparation, to research and conservation. The plaster jacket containing the kangaroo tibia was brought into the fossil preparation laboratory where it was prepared by specially trained fossil preparators, like Rochelle and Peter below. The aim of the preparator is to expose the bone while minimizing the loss of information and preserving the specimen for the future.

South Walker Creek’s senior preparator, Rochelle, using an air scribe to remove matrix away from the specimen.
Rochelle and technician, Peter, make sure to have the right protective equipment when cutting open the plaster jacket. Images Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

To begin preparation, we cut off the lid of the jacket with a plaster saw. Once opened we started to prepare the underside of the kangaroo tibia, the side that was facing down in the ground in the field and couldn’t be seen. We use a range of tools and vibrational air scribes to remove the sediment or matrix surrounding the specimen. As the lab is a technical workspace using electrical tools, equipment and chemicals, we wear a range of safety gear like earmuffs, glasses, dust masks and lab coats. We look pretty cool!

Palaeontology is a little bit like forensic science except we are solving some very, very old cases that involve prehistoric victims. Can you think of the similarities between the two sciences?

Peter uses the plaster saw to cut the lid off the jacket.
Peter begins the bulk removal of matrix surrounding the specimen. Images Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

We continued to remove the matrix in layers before exposing the kangaroo tibia. During this whole process we record, photograph and photogram any interesting features such as a change in the sediment colour or type, or if we come across any other bones and teeth that have been preserved next to the main specimen. This information can help us understand how the fossil site formed through the processes of sedimentology and stratigraphy (the way in which the sediment was deposited in layers) and taphonomy (how the animal decayed and fossilized) [Sketchfab 4]

The tibia is revealed in the matrix about half-way through preparation. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

The final phase of preparation for this side of the kangaroo tibia is the surface cleaning and preservation treatment with chemical glues to consolidate [Sketchfab 3] the specimen, keeping it together. It’s during this stage that we see other interesting features on the surface of the bone. With our tibia we found a few pathologies (diseases or injuries). A deep groove [Sketchfab 1] within the shaft indicates an injury or bone disease. However, it also shows secondary bone growth indicating that the disease did not kill the animal because it had time to grow new bone. We then found two puncture marks [Sketchfab 2] which fit the form of crocodile teeth indicating the kangaroo was attacked by a crocodile and this is how the kangaroo died.

Are you starting to see how similar our science is to forensics? We now have an idea of who may have been involved in the death of our victim, the giant kangaroo.

Crocodile teeth of many shapes and sizes found within the South Walker Creek sediment. Images Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

The next phase involved the creation of a plaster cradle [Sketchfab 2] so that the specimen could be flipped over allowing us to complete the preparation of the other side. We have to make sure the cradle is just right to support the specimen, not grip it too tight, otherwise it may never be taken out without breaking it. We use plastic wrap to protect the bone and plasticine around the specimen to create a wall for the wet plaster mix (casting plaster and a polymer) to settle and dry into a strong cradle.

Rochelle stands next to the tibia which has completed the first stage of preparation.
The tibia is covered in plastic wrap which is tucked into the plasticine wall. The plaster mix is poured over the plastic wrap molding to the surface of the bone to create a form-fitted plaster cradle for the specimen to sit in. Images Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

Can you see the similarities and differences between the field plaster jacket from Part 1 and the collection plaster cradle here?

Once again, we have to undertake the tricky process of flipping the kangaroo tibia in one piece. If we have properly conserved the specimen it shouldn’t fall apart – which it didn’t! We took away the plasticine wall and cleared away any loose matrix to prepare the side we first saw in the field. When it was finished, we did some final photographs and photograms of the specimen, and completed the documentation of our preparation job. The specimen is now ready for further analyses and research!

The kangaroo tibia survived the flip and is ready for the final stage of preparation.
The tibia fully prepared and completed. Images Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

A part of this stage involved the transportation of the kangaroo tibia to a hospital so it could be X-rayed (Computed Tomography scanned). Can you imagine what the other patients thought as we wheeled in a fossil leg bone of a giant kangaroo! A radiographer, like Nikki below, takes x-ray images of the bone from different angles to produce digital slices of the specimen [Sketchfab 1]. This allows us to see inside the bone [Sketchfab 4], like x-ray vision, and in this case to study the pathology [Sketchfab 2, 3] in greater detail. Once a specimen has gone through the research stage it is finally ready for conservation, which is the final treatment of the specimen into a safe environment where it is either stored within the collections or placed on display.

The kangaroo tibia is on its new plaster cradle ready to be CT scanned.
Nikki controls the scanner with her computer and uses special algorithms to process images of the fossil bones, which are denser than human bones. Images Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

We use all of the data collected as evidence to form a profile on our victim. We have found some teeth and other limb bones representing a giant kangaroo that may be associated with our victim. Its unguals (claws) [Sketchfab 3] on its feet also have a unique morphology (form, shape) being long and hoof-like, similar to a deer. It may have used its strong unguals to tip toe, making itself taller, to reach food that was higher up in the trees.

Starting from the back, the white coloured tibia is from a modern kangaroo followed by two fossil tibiae from our giant kangaroo and finally the shinbone of a smaller species of kangaroo. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

In fact, what stands out about this giant kangaroo, is its size [Sketchfab 5] perhaps reaching up to 3 metres in height when on its toes. We compared it to other known extinct giant kangaroos and it didn’t fit these species. Its tibia [Sketchfab 1] is longer than these species even without the epiphyses (end caps) fused, meaning it wasn’t fully grown adult. We think our giant kangaroo might be a new species and it looks to be the biggest species ever found!

Reconstruction of the giant kangaroo with a joey in its pouch next to an adult human of average height. Image Credit: Vlad Konstantinov, Andrey Atuchin, Scott Hocknull, Rochelle Lawrence.

Make sure to check out Part 1: In the Field as we go behind the scenes to collect evidence of a giant kangaroo.

Project DIG is a partnership between Queensland Museum and BHP that will digitise and scan our collections and research for people worldwide. Check out our Tropical Megafauna in 3D!

Top Image – The stages our kangaroo tibia went through from being excavated in the field, documented through photogrammetry, CT scanned and finally reconstructed. Image Credit: Vlad Konstantinov, Andrey Atuchin, Scott Hocknull.

Discovering the world’s largest kangaroo- Part 1: In the field

By Rochelle Lawrence, Palaeontological Research Assistant, and Scott Hocknull, Senior Curator, Geosciences, Queensland Museum 

As the weather begins to cool, the ‘dig’ season starts for us (palaeontologists) as we venture off along the coast and into the outback heart of Queensland. Over the last ten years we have been investigating a series of fossil sites at South Walker Creek located near the town of Nebo, west of Mackay. It is here that we are finding some of Australia’s last tropical ice age megafauna.

The dig team excavate megafauna bones at the main fossil site on an ancient floodplain. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

Our dig team usually consists of palaeontologists, along with other scientists and specialists who contribute and volunteer their time. During the year of 2016 one of our volunteers, Noel Sands, who specializes in caving (and their fossil deposits!) called speleology, found a very large fossilized bone. Using an array of brushes and dig tools, Noel carefully excavated the sediment from around the bone to expose its shape and size. It was identified as a tibia (shinbone) [Sketchfab 1] from a kangaroo, but not just any kangaroo, the world’s largest species of kangaroo!

Using a palaeontologist’s tool kit to remove the sediment and find the extent of the bone. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

Once the position of the bone was established, we trenched around the specimen to create a pedestal so it could be isolated, with its surrounding sediment, from the rest of the dig site. The bone was then recorded and photographed in situ (the original place of deposition). We also place a temporary paddle pop stick [Sketchfab 6, 7)] with an identifying field number on the bone so it can be plotted in 3-D using a process called photogrammetry.

Scott and Rochelle doing the ‘photogrammetry shuffle’ where they take overlapping photos at different heights and angles of the exposed bones across the entire dig site. These photos are uploaded to special software to reconstruct them in 3-D, kind of like a 3-D puzzle. Image Credit: Clare O’Bryen.

To begin the process of extraction, we first cover the bone and pedestal with foil to act as a protective layer. It is then covered with strips of wet newspaper, which provides cushioning for the jacket we are going to make to contain the bone. To make the jacket we use strips of hessian dipped in a plaster mix (casting plaster and water) and wrap them around the pedestal with the bone and wait for it dry. This is always the fun job!

The large tibia bone on the pedestal ready to be jacketed.
Scott, Christina and Natalia have fun plastering the specimen. Images Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

Once the plaster jacket is dry, the field number and a directional north arrow are written on it so we know which specimen it is and its position in the site. The next step of the process is always tricky and is about getting it just right to roll the jacket over with the specimen kept in one piece. We use a hammer to bang in chisels at the base of the pedestal to loosen it from the underlying sediment. When it becomes loose it is ready to be quickly rolled over. If we have made a good jacket the specimen should stay all in one piece. On rare occasions we are not so lucky, but this time it went without a hitch! You can see this whole process in the video below, check it out!

Scott using a hammer and chisel to slowly wedge the plaster jacket away from the ground.
Noel and Scott sit happy and proud with the successful roll over of the plaster jacket. Images Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

Finally, the other side of the plaster jacket is sealed with the same plastering process to form a lid. Now the specimen is protected in a hard, egg-like shell to be transported back to the Queensland Museum and stored temporarily in the Geosciences collection with other unprocessed specimens awaiting preparation. There was also a distal tibia epiphyses (end cap) bone [Sketchfab 3] sitting on the shaft of the tibia and a bone shard [Sketchfab 4] nearby that were carefully collected so they were out of the way of extracting the tibia. We will be able to see if these bones are associated (connected) to the tibia.

Scott and Christina make the lid to the plaster jacket so it is sealed and protecting the specimen inside on its travels back to the museum. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

Another challenge of the fieldwork is getting large jackets from the dig site back to the field vehicle. As the terrain is quite rough and our excavations occur in an eroded creek bed we cannot drive very close to the dig site. We have to use trollies, stretchers and manual handling to slowly walk the jackets with their specimens out of the dig site. Whilst excavating fossils by hand is exciting, it is also a lot of hard work. It involves good fitness, experience, precision, problem solving and most importantly team work.

Scott and Peter are tasked with transporting the large plaster jacket across the bumpy terrain to the field vehicle using a trolley. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

Check out Part 2: In the Lab as we go behind the scenes to investigate the giant kangaroo leg further.

Project DIG is a partnership between Queensland Museum and BHP that will digitise and scan our collections and research for people worldwide. Check out our Tropical Megafauna in 3D!

Top Image – The dig team sit proudly around the tibia of the world’s largest species of kangaroo, all ready to be extracted. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

 

A Crime scene of the past – investigating tropical ice age megafauna

By Rochelle Lawrence, Palaeontological Research Assistant, and Scott Hocknull, Senior Curator, Geosciences, Queensland Museum

In 2008, an extraordinary discovery was made at South Walker Creek, located near the town of Nebo, west of Mackay in Queensland, Australia. Traditional owners of the area, the Barada Barna people, were conducting a cultural heritage survey for the South Walker Creek Mine when they came across some interesting bones. These bones were not the usual white colour, like those of cows you find in the paddock, nor were they light in weight or becoming brittle from exposure to the sun. They were dark coloured, a little heavier than usual and quite solid in form.

We have found the white, brittle bones of modern cows and sheep on many of our fossil surveys. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.
 A fossil osteoderm (bone plate) from the scales along a crocodile’s back and a piece of bone below that was first found at South Walker Creek. Image Credit: Andrea Bull.

The bones were fossils! Fossils are the remains or traces of organisms (animals and plants) from a past geological age. Most fossils form from the bones and hard parts of animals and plants, but sometimes in rare conditions the soft parts, such as flesh and organs, can be preserved. The feathers, fur and stomach contents of animals have also been preserved, as well as small creatures, like insects, trapped in the sticky sap of trees, which has hardened into amber over millions of years. Trace fossils can include animal droppings, burrows, eggs or footprints, which can tell us a lot about the animal’s habits. They are all evidence of once-living things!

Brachiood fossil found at Homevale National Park on 29/09/2008 by Josh Moulds.

Fossils are found all over the world, but they only represent a few of the many organisms that have existed on the planet. Special conditions are required for an organism to become a fossil and survive the changes within the Earth’s sediment through time. Firstly, an organism has to be buried by sediment, such as mud and sand, which is usually washed in by water. The next stage of fossilisation depends on the organism itself and the environmental conditions. The bones from South Walker Creek have undergone a process called (per)mineralisation. Minerals from the soil and water in the creeks enter the cracks and pores of the bone making it harder over time and giving it a stony appearance.

White cards with field numberes were used to indicate the fossil bones found within the ancient creek. The one on the left is an arm bone (humerus) from a giant kangaroo, which has a whole other story – stay tuned with future blogs. Image Credit: Josh Moulds.

The environmental officers of the mine contacted the Queensland Museum where they were put in touch with palaeontologist, Dr. Scott Hocknull, who studies fossils of ancient life. Dr. Scott and his team worked with the traditional owners and mine officers to conduct natural heritage surveys, looking for more fossil remains and traces of past ecosystems within the geological landscape (geology) along the Walker Creek system.

The team surveys the ancient creeks and floodplains of the area looking for other fossil sites. Image Credit: Josh Moulds.

On inspection of the fossils, Dr. Scott identified them belonging to extinct giant creatures, not dinosaurs, but megafauna! The megafauna we refer to here occurred during the ice ages of the Quaternary Period from 129,000 to 11,700 years ago. An exciting find was waiting for them in the form of a partial skull from the giant wombat-like marsupial, Diprotodon optatum.

The tooth rows from a skull of the giant wombat-like marsupial, Diprotodon optatum, were eroding out of the ground. Image Credit: Josh Moulds.

The megafauna fossils from South Walker Creek mostly represent †extinct species, some of which are new to science, along with a few extant (living) species that survive today. We have found predators such as crocodiles †Pallimnarchus (giant freshwater crocodile), † ‘Quinkana’ (terrestrial crocodile) and Crocodylus (saltwater crocodile), the giant goanna †Megalania (Varanus priscus) and the marsupial ‘lion’ †Thylacoleo.

A fossil tooth from a crocodile found while surveying. Image Credit: Josh Moulds.

These predators would have preyed on the herbivores (plant eaters) that they lived with, such as the giant wombat-like marsupial, †Diprotodon optatum, giant wombats like †Phascolonus gigas, the strange giant sloth bear-like marsupial, †Palorchestes, and kangaroos, including the giant forest wallaby, †Protemnodon, a short-faced kangaroo (†Sthenurine), the red kangaroo (Osphranter rufus), a giant wallaby (†Notomacropus) and a giant deer-like kangaroo (†Macropus sp.). 00Rare fossils, including eggshell, of the emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) have also been found.

Dr. Scott excavates the tooth rows and partial skull of the Diprotodon to carefully remove it from the ground. Image Credit: Josh Moulds.

In among the megafauna bones we also find small fauna of both aquatic (water-dwelling) and terrestrial (land-dwelling) species, along with the fossil impressions of leaves and seeds from the plants that grew in the environment at the time of the megafauna. These delicate remains are rarely preserved in fossil sites of this age and are especially uncommon in the tropics making these sites extra special for palaeontologists. Since 2008, teams have undertaken fieldwork to survey, salvage and excavate fossil sites at South Walker Creek and this work continues today.

Dr. Scott and field volunteer, Noel Sands, carefully carry the partial skull of Diprotodon out of the site as if it were the Ark of the Covenant from Indiana Jones. Image Credit: Josh Moulds.

The fossil discoveries from South Walker Creek are exciting because little is known about the megafauna from the tropical northern regions of Australia compared to those that have been studied in southern Australia. The site is significant as it preserves fossil evidence that is very close to the time of the megafauna’s ultimate extinction in Australia. By studying the site, we are finding answers to our questions surrounding the evolution and extinction of megafauna. Documenting the responses of megafauna to past environmental change is important to better understand the impacts of future change on our living species.

The team celebrate their exciting fossil finds and Diprotodon treasure. Image Credit: Queensland Museum and BHP.

Stay tuned for future blogs on South Walker Creek fossils as we take you behind the scenes and delve deeper into the past of these tropical ice age megafauna.

Project DIG is a partnership between Queensland Museum and BHP that will digitise and scan our collections and research for people worldwide. Check out our Tropical Megafauna in 3D!

Top Image – The main site of the South Walker Creek megafauna fossils where we are excavating their remains within an ancient floodplain. Image Credit: Josh Moulds.

What are megafauna?

By Rochelle Lawrence, Palaeontological Research Assistant, and Scott Hocknull, Senior Curator, Geosciences, Queensland Museum.

Megafauna are giant animals usually weighing over 44 kilograms (kg). Most megafauna are now extinct (no longer exist) and were closely related to living species of animals we see today. You have probably heard of the more commonly known megafauna species, like the saber-toothed cat and woolly mammoth from North America.

Here is a cast of a saber-toothed cat, Smilodon fatalis, from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, California, United States of America, that I walk by in our Queensland Museum’s Geosciences collection. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

However, Australia is unique with its own megafauna ranging from huge and sometimes strange marsupials (mammals with a pouch), like the giant sloth bear-like Palorchestes to very large monitor lizards like the giant goanna, Megalania. There were giant wombat-like marsupials the size of a rhinoceros like Diprotodon, an array of giant kangaroos different to today’s species and a weird super-predator called Thylacoleo, which means pouched-lion. Australia even had giant, armoured tortoises with clubbed tails, land-dwelling crocodiles, giant constricting snakes and huge flightless birds.

Reconstruction of one of my favourite megafauna, Palorchestes. Image Credit: Andrey Atuchin, Rochelle Lawrence, Scott Hocknull © Queensland Museum.

Megafauna can also refer to species that weighed less than 44 kg, but resemble a giant version of a closely related living species. For example, the extinct ‘giant’ koala (Phascolarctos stirtoni) was larger than the living koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) and probably weighed under 15 kg. Others include a giant echidna, (Megalibgwilia), the Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger and a larger relative of the Tasmanian devil, Sarcophilus laniarius. The term ‘megafauna’ is still used to refer to our largest living animals today such as the elephant.

Can you think of any other living megafauna or extinct?

A species of living megafauna, the elephant, we saw on safari in Namibia, Africa. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

The megafauna arose well after the extinction of the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous Period, 66 million years ago. In Australia they reached their largest size during the Quaternary Period (2.58 million to 11,700 years ago). The rapidly changing climatic and environmental conditions created grasslands and open habitats favouring the worldwide evolution of gigantic animals. Towards the end of the Quaternary, extinctions of megafauna occurred with nearly two-thirds of Australia’s largest animals dying out, along with many smaller species.

Skeletons of extinct megafauna, including the woolly mammoth, we saw in the Palaeontological Museum of Liaoning in China. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

There is a great debate in palaeontology (study of ancient life) and archaeology (study of human history) surrounding the big questions of why and how did the megafauna go extinct? Answers revolve around an extended period of severe climate change or human activity, or a combination of both, resulting in extreme changes to the environment. To answer these questions, we have to keep searching for the evidence and investigate more megafauna fossil sites – if they have been lucky enough to be preserved and can be found! Each individual site is a reflection of the different creatures and environmental conditions that existed within the ecosystem of that region representing a small piece of a bigger puzzle involving the whole of Australia and even the world. 

Reconstruction of a Diprotodon who had met its fate. Image Credit: Robert Allen © Queensland Museum.

Climate change here refers to the long-term, natural processes that can change the Earth’s climate such as its orbit around the Sun, changes in solar radiation, levels of greenhouse gases, and plate tectonics (movement of the Earth’s crust). These changes appear locally in the form of sustained changes in weather patterns, like decreases and increases in temperature, the frequency of droughts or flooding and overall intensifying aridity. Human activity during this time refers to hunting and disturbance patterns to the environment such as the burning of the landscape.

The drying and cracking of the earth I captured in outback Queensland. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

Today climate change includes anthropogenic drivers, like pollution from increased industrial activities of humans. Some of these include the burning of fossil fuels that generate extra greenhouse gases, pollutants and deforestation. These influence how the temperatures across the globe are regulated and drive global warming, a rise in the average temperature of the Earth’s climate system.

Smog from pollutants, such as cars, released into the atmosphere surrounding a bustling city in Asia. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

Megafauna fossils have been found around Australia and throughout Queensland. Those from the Quaternary Period have been found within sites in southern Queensland like the Darling Downs and Eulo. These sites are well known for the world’s largest wombat-like marsupial, Diprotodon optatum. Diprotodon would have browsed and grazed through the open woodlands and grassy plains of the downs and around the mud springs of Eulo, where on occasion they got stuck, leaving their bones for us to find tens of thousands of years later.

During this excavation we used the numbers to show where the bones of Diprotodon are situated within the ancient mud spring near Eulo. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

As we head north into the subtropics of central eastern Queensland we find fossils of megafauna from The Caves region near Rockhampton. The fossil remains of these animals that lived around and inside the cave systems have accumulated in cave chamber deposits. These deposits are unique as they record fossil fauna from different environments that transitioned through time from wet rainforests to dry open-arid habitats and then to today’s special vine thicket refugia (habitat supporting refuge). Here we find fossils of the extinct giant tree-kangaroo, Bohra, who is a larger version of today’s living tree-kangaroo species found in Far North Queensland and New Guinea.

Reconstruction of Bohra from the rainforest deposits. Image Credit: Robert Allen © Queensland Museum.
Dig pit in Colosseum Chamber of Capricorn Caves preserving fossils of animals from modern refugia. Image Credit: Rochelle Lawrence.

Even further north in Queensland, west of Mackay, fossils of megafauna are being excavated from sites at South Walker Creek. These fossil deposits are rare because they preserve a tropical megafauna. Not many megafauna fossil sites have been found in northern Australia. Many of the fossil bones have puncture marks made by predatory crocodiles including the extinct giant freshwater crocodile, Pallimnarchus. These crocodiles would have inhabited the billabongs and creeks, hunting at their edge for unaware megafauna that would come to drink.

Reconstruction of Pallimnarchus. Image Credit: Robert Allen © Queensland Museum.

Research into the megafauna is helping us understand their responses to environmental change during the Quaternary Period and hopefully it will answer the many questions surrounding their extinction. If we can track down our past, we can better understand how our present has been shaped by the extinction of the megafauna and hopefully use that knowledge to prepare for the future impacts of environmental change.

Can you think of any impacts to our environments today that affects our living species?

Project DIG is a partnership between Queensland Museum and BHP that will digitise and scan our collections and research for people worldwide. Check out our Tropical Megafauna in 3D!

Top Image – Reconstruction of megafauna from the Darling Downs. Image Credit: Robert Allen © Queensland Museum.

Australia’s favourite dinosaurs in 3D

To celebrate National Dinosaur Day on 7 May 2020, we are excited to share with you a look at some 3D models of Australia’s favourite dinosaurs that our team of palaeontologists have been working on. 

Here’s a special message from Dr Scott Hocknull showcasing Australia’s most iconic dinosaur Muttaburrsaurus.

 

Rhoetosaurus brownei

Take a close up look at Australia’s most complete Jurassic dinosaur – Rhoetosaurus brownei – a long-necked plant-eating sauropod. View the 3D model here. 

Rhoetosaurus
3D Model – Konstantinov, Atuchin & Hocknull (2013). Image Credits – Lawrence (2013), Queensland Museum image library.

 

Australovenator wintonensis 

Queensland Museum palaeontologist, Dr Scott Hocknull found the first bone of this meat eater dinosaur in 2006 and scientifically named Australia’s most complete meat-eating dinosaur, Australovenator wintonensis in 2009. View the 3D model here. 

Australovenator
3D Model – Konstantinov, Atuchin & Hocknull (2013).K3D Model – Konstantinov, Atuchin & Hocknull (2013). Sketchfab Scene – Hocknull (2020) Image Credit – Hocknull (2016) Copyright Queensland Museum (2020)

 

Platypterygius australis 

Meet the only species of ichthyosaur so far known from the Eromanga Sea – growing to up to 5 metres long, it’s Platypterygius australis which lived in the Cretaceous Period approximately 105-100 million years ago. View the 3D model here. 

Platypterygius_ichthyosaur
3D Model – Konstantinov, Atuchin & Hocknull (2013). Sketchfab Scene – Hocknull (2020) Image Credit – Lawrence (2013), Beirne (2013). Copyright Queensland Museum (2020)

Muttaburrsaurus langdoni 

You might recognise this guy from our Lost Creatures exhibition – it’s Muttaburrsaurus langdoni – Australia’s largest ornithopod dinosaur which lived around 103 million years ago. View the 3D model here. 

 

Muttaburrasaurus
3D Model – Konstantinov, Atuchin & Hocknull (2013).K3D Model – Konstantinov, Atuchin & Hocknull (2013). Sketchfab Scene – Hocknull (2020) Image Credit – Hocknull (2016). Copyright Queensland Museum (2020)

Kunburrasaurus ieversi 

This small armoured dinosaur with spikes on its neck, body and tail is Kunburrasaurus ieversi – Australia’s most complete dinosaur skeleton. Have you seen it in our Lost Creatures exhibition? View the 3D model here. 

Kunburrasaurus_Minmi
3D Model – Konstantinov, Atuchin & Hocknull (2013).K3D Model – Konstantinov, Atuchin & Hocknull (2013). Sketchfab Scene – Hocknull (2020) Image Credit – Hocknull (2001). Copyright Queensland Museum (2020)

 

Small ornithopod dinosaur

Can you spot the small ornithopod dinosaur in this scene? View the 3D model here. 

Ornithopod

Interested in more? View the full Queensland Museum’s 3D model collection on Sketchfab. 


This work was made possible by a partnership between Queensland Museum and BHP.  For more information visit projectdig.qm.qld.gov.au

The last dicynodont? A 100 year old fossil mystery with bite

Dicynodonts were a group of plant eating stem-mammals (often called mammal-like reptiles), which with their toothless beaks and tusks looked a bit like a mix between a hippo and a tortoise, without the shell.

image_6649_1-Lisowicia-bojani
Lisowicia bojani (dicynodont). Image credit: Dmitry Bogdanov / CC By 3.0

These animals were the most diverse and abundant herbivores in the second half of the Permian and during the Triassic periods, around 270 and 201 million years ago, after which they went extinct worldwide. Or at least so we thought…

In early 1914, a pastoralist in northern Queensland in Australia picked up some pieces of fossil bone in a gully on his property, which he donated to the Queensland Museum.

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First page of the letter sent from Mr F.L. Berney to the Queensland Museum notifying of a shipment of fossils from Mr R. Pool, consisting of a partial macropod femur (QMF559) and a left diprotodontid maxilla (QMF660)

One of the fragments in particular, which preserved a large curved tooth, showed some resemblance to dicynodonts found in South Africa. However, in the area where the fossil was found, there are no Permian or Triassic rocks, only Cretaceous, which are nearly 100 million years younger.

It’s similarity to dicynodonts and it likely originating from Cretaceous rocks, caused researchers in the early 2000’s to conclude that dicynodonts had found a refuge from the end-Triassic extinction, in Australia!

This was not a far-fetched idea, as a group of amphibians called temnospondyls had already been shown to have done exactly that. While they had gone extinct elsewhere at the end of the Triassic, they had survived for millions of years later in Australia. The only problem was that the Cretaceous dicynodont material was very fragmented, causing contention amongst palaeontologists as to its real biological origin.

A study led by Senior Curator of Palaeontology for the Museum of Tropical Queensland and James Cook University Dr Espen Knutsen, published in Gondwana Research, looked closer at this possibly highly significant material using both traditional and state-of-the-art analytical techniques.

The results show that rather than belonging to a Cretaceous dicynodont, the fossils are that of a much more recent diprotodontid, a wombat-like animal the size of a hippo, which lived in Australia around 2.5 million years ago.

Diprotonid
Diprotodon optatum (Diprotodon) Illustrator: Anne Musser © Anne Musser 

By searching through 100-year-old museum archives, the study found that another fossil was found by the same pastoralist, only months prior in the same gully, meters away from the dicynodont fragments. This fossil, however, was from the left upper jaw of a diprotodontid.

Letters from the pastoralist to Queensland Museum, states that he believed the fossils all belonged to the same individual. To test this, the researchers analysed the trace element concentrations in the fossilised bone. By comparing the elemental signatures of the bones, the researchers showed unequivocally that the fossils came from the same rock unit, and likely the same individual.

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Letter from Mr R. Pool of Alderley Station to the Queensland Museum regarding another shipment of specimens.

What more, after CT scanning the dicynodont material at the Australian Synchrotron, it became clear that its anatomy did not match that of dicynodonts, but rather that of diprotodontids.

The give-away came in the form of the distribution of enamel on the large tooth, which only covered the front. This is what is normally seen in the front teeth of diprotodontids and other mammals with so-called ever-growing incisors.

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Another interesting find was a pit in the bone just in front of the large incisor, the result of an abscess. As the fossil remains suggests the animal was a young individual, it is likely this infection led to an agonising early death.

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The diprotodontid fossil on display as part of the 2019 exhibition Natural Curiosity: Discovering the secrets of Queensland’s greatest collections at Museum of Tropical Queensland

Dr Espen Knusten is the Senior Curator, Palaeontology at Museum of Tropical Queensland

Celebrating women in science

We celebrate the achievements of women, known and unknown, remembered and forgotten, who have forged the way for those of us in science today, and to give an opportunity for children: girls and boys, to choose role models in science – Princess Nisreen El-Hashemite, BSc MSc MD PhD

This coming 11 February is International Day of Women and Girls in Science and to celebrate we’re featuring some of the incredible scientists and staff involved in the scientific field across the Queensland Museum Network. Their hard work and excellent contributions often help inspire women and young girls who are interested in following a path in science. We delve into why they chose to get involved in science and what they’ve found most rewarding.

#goals #inspo

Marissa McNamara
Lab Manager and Collection Manager (marine for crustacea)

International Day of Women and Girls in Science - Marissa McNamara

I work with preserved crabs, prawns, lobsters and other amazing creatures from around Australia, and I get to see the incredible diversity and beauty of life every day. I also help members of the public identify crustaceans they find (often on the beach or the reef), and it’s fantastic to see what people discover. I feel like I learn something new every day! As an added bonus, for Halloween I get to dress up and show off our ‘creepiest’ looking specimens!

Rebekah Collins
Manager, SparkLab and Discovery Centre

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It is really rewarding to create experiences that support visitor learning, hearing people share their memories, stories and connections with the Museum and the Sciencentre, and seeing how much it means to them, especially those who later go on to study or be involved with science.

Joanne Wilkinson
Senior Fossil Preparator and Geosciences Volunteer Coordinator

International Day of Women and Girls in Science - Joanne Wilkinson

At age 9 I asked for a Chemistry set for Christmas. That’s when my love of litmus paper and the test tubes began. Many years later, combining my interest in fossils and my love of test tubes and laboratories, I find myself Senior Fossil Preparator at Queensland Museum. The most rewarding part of working in the fossil scientific community is the discovery of new sites and new species which add to fossil record of Australia and ultimately to the fossil record of the planet.

Susan Wright
Collection Manager, Terrestrial Environments (Entomology)

International Day of Women and Girls in Science - Susan Wright

The best part of my job as a Collection Manager is that I get to help a wide range of people, from scientists to artists, to conduct fascinating (sometimes bizarre) research regarding insects, our collections and the people that contribute to them. I learn something new every day.

Chae Swindell
Learning Officer, Future Makers

International Day of Women and Girls in Science - Chae Swindell

The most rewarding part of my role is using our collections and research to develop resources that inspire and excite students, teachers and the community about science!

Christine Lambkin
Curator of Entomology

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I became an entomologist and evolutionary biologist because I am fascinated by the interaction between the incredible beauty and unbelievable diversity of insects, and our attempts to mathematically estimate the relationships between species based on morphology and genetics.

Rochelle Lawrence
Research Assistant and Honorary, Vertebrate Palaeontology

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I chose to get involved in science because of my fascination with the natural world, especially our unique fossil fauna and how they can help us better understand the present and impacts or future environmental change.

Kristen Spring
Collection Manager, Geosciences

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I got into science because although there is too much to discover in one lifetime, I was certainly determined to try!

Susan Turner
DAAD Professor and Honorary Research Fellow, Geosciences

International Day of Women and Girls in Science - Susan Turner

I got hooked at around eight years old by reading a book on dinosaurs – the joy of finding the right mentor led me into vertebrate palaeontology in my twenties. Five decades on I still get excited knowing I am the first person to see a new fossil specimen, and sometimes have the joy of identifying and naming it for posterity.

Jessica Worthington Wilmer 
Research Fellow and Molecular Identities Lab Manager

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I became a biologist (evolutionary geneticist) to better understand the world I live in and to use that knowledge to help save threatened and endangered species.

Carole J Burrow
Honorary Research Fellow

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The most rewarding aspect of my work in vertebrate palaeontology is working out new information about very old things (300 to 400 million year old fossils) to help our understanding of how the earliest back-boned animals with jaws are related to each other.

Amy Boulding
Head, Lifelong Learning 

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Amy (back) and Rebekah officially opening the doors to SparkLab

I originally got into science because I loved that I could ask lots of questions and go find the answers by getting my hands dirty and exploring the natural world. I’m super proud of now leading the Lifelong Learning team, and seeing all of the ways that my team create and facilitate those life-changing, enlightening, inspiring moments with people on all different themes and stories within the Museum.

Sue-Ann Watson
Senior Curator (Marine Invertebrates)

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Making new discoveries is the most rewarding part of science. Being the first to know something is really exciting.

Barbara Baehr
Arachnologist and “Australian Spider Lady”

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Barbara with her daughter

I chose to get involved in science because it’s great to be at the forefront of discoveries and I love to be a role model for my daughters.

Jessica Johnson 
Learning Officer, SparkLab, and Forensic Scientist

Jessica Johnson

I chose science when I held a real human brain in my hands and realised that this was a person, that 1.5kgs was everything that made someone them, and there’s nothing more rewarding then seeing the look on a child’s face when they understand something new and exciting about science.

Claire Chakrabarti
Learning Officer, SparkLab

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I was the child that always asked why and I chose to pursue a career in science as it provided the answers.

Susan Wightley 
Information Officer, Discovery Centre 

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I have always been fascinated by the huge variety of animals, the adaptations to their environment and how they interact with it and each other. I am in my dream job helping people understand and appreciate the complexity and awesomeness of the natural environment around them.

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