Friday, June 14, 2013

Dinosaur Triangle - Queensland

Central Queensland has a dinosaur trail taking in the three towns of Winton, Richmond and Hughenden. This positions the triangle about 450 km west of Townsville, and about 450 km east of Mt Isa.

Within the triangle I started out at Winton. Remember, it's worth staying at the Gregory Hotel, not the Matilda Motel as I did (twice the cost, no wifi, massive cockroaches, but I did get my own ensuite). Winton was once located on the edge of Australia's eastern inland sea, resulting in both marine and land originating fossils being found in the area, but its claim to fame is definantly the land originating fossils, particularly dinosaurs. 11km east of town, heading back to Longreach, is the turn off to a dinosaur research and display facility.

This facility is called "Age of Australian Dinosaurs" and is situated on top of a mesa overlooking a sheep grazing property belong to David Elliot (who's land a lot of the fossils have originated on). This contains the largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils, many of which are still to be worked on by volunteers, staff, and paying members of the public. It also processes marine and flora fossils found on the property, but most of the effort goes on the "terrible lizards".
Age of Australian Dinosaurs is based around a couple of important dinosaurs found in the grazing paddocks of and around Winton.
One of the original sauropod bones that has been pieced back together.

Volunteers working in the laboratory, slowly exposing the fossils from the rock.

Tour guide Maddighan with an opened fossil wrapping waiting for fossil exposure and identification.

This is how the fossils arrive to the facility. The fossils are found in the paddocks, exposed, wrapped in wet newspaper, aluminium foil, plaster cast and then gently shipped to the laboratory where they sit until it's time to look through them.

Banjo (Australoventator wintonensis) is one of the newer dinosaurs found in the area. And as it's a carnivore it is also one of the "sexier" dinosaurs. Below is what they found of it so far (as displayed in the collection room), and also a recreation of what it may have looked like.

If you travel about 110km south of Winton you come to the Lark Quarry Conservation Park and the Dinosaur Stampede National Monument. This is the site of the only known fossilised dinosaur stampede in the world. It consists of over 3000 dinosaur tracks. This iconic site is now protected within a modern ecological building in order to protect them from weathering.

The stampede itself happened about 95 million years ago and was discovered by a station manager, Glen Seymour. The story of the stampede itself is believed to have occurred on the edge of a creek, where potentially several hundred Coelurosaurs (chicken sized dinosaurs, likely carnivores) and Ornithopods (emu sized herbivores) were feeding and drinking. It is thought that a large carnivorous dinosaur (potentially the same as Banjo, due to footprint matching to the fossilised remains processes at the Age of Australian Dinosaurs facility) then ambushed the group of smaller dinosaurs, causing them to panic and stampede. There are also tracks from a sauropod in the rock, but this dinosaur was believed to have passed through earlier as the tracks are consistently placed and are overwritten in places by some of the stampeding footprints.

Measurements of the tracks have the Coelurosaurs moving at about 10-15 kph and the larger Ornithopods moving at speeds of up to 30 kph, similar in speed to the carnivore. This fossil site was actually the inspiration of the stampede scene in Jurassic Park. Researchers for the movie made their way to Lark Quarry and this helped them plan not just the stampede scene, but also how to have the dinosaurs move in the movie. This came from measurements and positioning of the footprints in the rock.

Richmond is a 250km journey to the north of Winton and is home to Kronosaurus Korner. Situated where an inland sea used to be 100 million years ago, the area is known primarily for its aquatic fossil range, particularly the Kronosaurus and Itchthyosaurs. The Kronosaurus modelled outside the museum was found in the local area in the 1930s, but currently resides in the USA. Part of a Kronosaur jaw next to a modern crocodile skull. The Kronosaur could have teeth 30cm long.

A short drive to the north of town, across the Flinders River, are two fossicking sites that public are allowed to work. A number of finds from these locations have made their way back to the facility located in Richmond. The museum also contains an extensive collection of aquatic animal fossils.

Pride of place though is the Richmond Pliosaur, a short necked plesiosaur. It is a nearly 100% complete skeleton making it one of the best preserved skeletons of its type in the world.

The other dinosaur of merit is Minmi (minmi paravertebra), an ankylosaur. This 100 million year old fossil was discovered by a local grazier in 1989.

The final town in the trifecta is Hughenden. This town is home to one of Australias best known dinosaurs, the Muttaburrasaurus.

The Flinders Discovery Centre also incorporates metal sculptures around the town created by local artists.

It's a good little circuit if you like dinosaurs. I know that next time I head that way I'll remember my geo-pick and a pan. This will make the fossil hunting experience a little more productive and the pan is useful for some of the other stops along the way where gem fossicking is allowed.

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