Fossil Hunters

The landscape of western Queensland is dramatic. After a good wet season, Mitchell grass grows thickly on the vast plains. Elsewhere the land is stony and dotted with clumps of hardy spinifex. But if you’d travelled this way 95 million years ago, the scenery would have been very different. In the Mid-Cretaceous Period forests of conifers, lush ferns and flowering plants covered the land, watered by rivers and streams which flowed into a huge inland sea. And it was inhabited by dinosaurs! 

In August 2022, we followed the Dinosaur Trail through western Queensland, on a route from Winton to Richmond, Hughenden and Muttaburra, all locations where dinosaur fossils have been discovered. Put your Australian Dinosaur Trail Pass in your pocket and join us on a journey back in time to the land of the dinosaurs. 

Australian Age of Dinosaurs, Winton

Have you ever wondered what a paleontologist’s job is like? The place to find out is the Australian Age of Dinosaurs at Winton.

As well as housing the world’s largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils, this outback museum also runs a fossil restoration and preservation program, manned by trained volunteers under the guidance of skilled palaeontologists. We were keen to learn more about their work. 

Our tour of the museum was divided into several parts. We started at the Reception Centre, where a life-sized Australovenator wintonensis greeted us. 

At the Fossil Preparation Laboratory, we learned about the process of locating and excavating fossils in the field.

Once excavated, the fossils are encased in a protective layer of plaster so they can be safely transported to the laboratory. 

Volunteer technicians work with painstaking precision to remove the rock surrounding the fossils. Hundreds of hours are spent on each delicate piece. 

We saw the results of this meticulous work in the Collection Room, where specimens of sauropods, pterosaurs and that fearsome Australovenator wintonensis are displayed. 

The next stop on our tour was the “March of the Titanosaurs” exhibit, housed in a purpose-built protective structure. Inside is a 54 metre sauropod tracksite dating from the Cretaceous period.  Two life-sized sauropods, just like those who made the tracks, stand guard outside. 

The fossilised footprints, laid down in mud by a large herd of sauropods, were discovered in 2018 in a dry creek bed on a station near Winton. Because of the risk of weathering, the tracksite was carefully removed piece by piece, and reassembled like a jigsaw in this undercover area in a three year operation. Along with the sauropods’ large footprints, we could also see the smaller tracks of turtles and crocodiles. 

 At the Laboratory, Collection Room and Sauropod Tracksite, we were accompanied by excellent guides who gave fascinating commentaries. For the last part of our visit, at Dinosaur Canyon, we were left to wander at our own pace along a raised pathway on the edge of the Jumpup.   

We stopped to admire the view before continuing our search for dinosaurs in the Dinosaur Canyon gallery. 

First along the track was this gruesome scene, titled Death in the Billabong. Depicting the skeletal remains of a sauropod scattered over a wide area after scavengers have done their clean-up work, the display explains why intact fossilised skeletons are rarely found. 

Next, we found a family of Pterodactylus enjoying the warmth of the sun, just as they might have 115 million years ago. 

Another exhibit took us back to the the dinosaur stampede at Lark Quarry, with coelurosaurs and ornithopods running for their lives from a hungry therapod. 

And, at the end of the pathway, stood three armoured Kunbarrasaurus ieversi, anklyosaurs which lived here in the early Cretaceous Period, around 103 million years ago. 

These realistic sculptures brought the fossils and footprints in the museum’s collection to life. And the dedication of the palaeontologists and volunteers who work here is the reason we know so much about them.

Joining Jo for Monday Walks


17 thoughts on “Fossil Hunters

  1. A must-see for the next time I come! There were some dinosaur fossils found in the Elderwood area near where we lived in CA. They were shipped to one of the Smithsonian museums. I don’t remember which one. They did not build up an entire industry around the site where it was found, though, like this has been. What a wealth!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Fossil Hunters, Part Two | The Eternal Traveller

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