We're proud to announce three new Australian dinosaurs
And not just any dinosaurs either—these are HUGE!
PLoS ONE publication authors: Travis R Tischler, David Elliott, Naomi Calleja, Scott Hocknull, Alex Cook, Trish Sloan, Matt White
Press Release — Anna Bligh, Premier of Queensland
Three new Australian dinosaur species found in Western Queensland
Premier Anna Bligh today announced the discovery of three new species
of Australian dinosaur discovered in a prehistoric billabong in Western
Premier Anna Bligh and David Elliot at the announcement
“The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum and Queensland Museum have successfully partnered to uncover this greatest concentration of dinosaur bones ever found in Australia,” Ms Bligh said.
“This State Government funded initiative has revealed to the world the first new sauropods to be named in Australia in over 75 years and the most complete carnivorous dinosaur skeleton ever found in our country.”
The meat-eating Australovenator wintonensis (Banjo) has been coined Australia’s answer to Velociraptor – which was brought to terrifying life by Stephen Spielberg in the Jurassic Park films.
“Banjo possessed similar speed, razor-sharp teeth and had three large slashing claws on each hand. This was a terrifying creature,” said the Premier.
“The two plant-eating, four-legged sauropod species unveiled today are new types of titanosaurs – the largest animals ever to walk the earth.”
Palaeontologists say that the Diamantinasaurus matildae (Matilda) was a solid and robust animal, filling a niche similar to the hippopotamus today.
The second new species, Wintonotitan wattsi (Clancy) represented a tall animal that may have been Australia’s prehistoric answer to the giraffe.
“These discoveries are a major breakthrough in the scientific understanding of prehistoric life in Australia, and the potential for educational tourism through their permanent display at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History in Winton, is enormous,” said the Premier.
Ms Bligh made the announcement as she opened stage one of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History as part of the state’s Q150 celebrations.
“The construction of the first stage of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History was funded by the State government with support from the community,” she said.
“This is an important milestone in the development of a world-class Australian natural history museum in a magnificent outback setting, which will also provide an economic boost to the area.
“The construction of this facility supported 14 jobs and will support three full time jobs in operation. It will also attract thousands of visitors who will stay, eat and drink in Winton Hotels.”
The Premier said the purpose-built facility will house the world’s largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils.
“When the final stage of the three-stage project is complete in 2015, Queensland will boast an unrivalled natural history museum that tells the story of our prehistoric past with substantial display, education and research facilities,” she said.
“The potential of educational tourism for Winton and western Queensland from such a world-class institution will be significant.”
Australian Age of Dinosaurs Ltd Chairman David Elliott said the discovery of the dinosaurs was a great example of what can be achieved by everyday people who set out to do extraordinary things.
“With scientific support from the Queensland Museum, the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum has been able to unlock the mystery surrounding some of the fascinating dinosaurs that once roamed Australia,” Mr Elliott said.
“We have the fossils to prove it and the beginnings of what will become an iconic museum that Queensland and Australia can be proud of.
”This is Australia’s finest palaeontological moment and puts the country firmly on the dinosaur map,” he said.
The paper describing the new dinosaurs was published on-line today in PLoS ONE, the Public Library of Science’s new interactive open-access journal for scientific and medical research. The publication can be accessed at this link: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0006190
Ministerial media contact: 07 32244500
Press Release — PLoS ONE
11.30 A.M. Australian Eastern Standard Time - Fri, July 3 2009
Reporting on July 3 in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal, PLoS ONE, Scott Hocknull and colleagues at the Queensland Museum and the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History describe the fossils of three new mid-Cretaceous dinosaurs from the Winton Formation in eastern Australia: two giant, herbivorous sauropods and one carnivorous theropod, all of which are to be unveiled in Queensland on July 3. The three fossils add to our knowledge of the Australian dinosaurian record, which is crucial for the understanding of the global paleobiogeography of dinosaurian groups.
Australia’s dinosaurian fossil record is extremely poor, compared with that of other similar-sized continents, such as South America and Africa. However, the mid-Cretaceous Winton Formation in central western Queensland has, in recent years, yielded numerous fossil sites with huge potential for the discovery of new dinosaurian taxa. Between 2006 and 2009, extensive excavations have yielded many well-preserved dinosaur fossils, as well as the remains of other contemporaneous fauna.
In a single, comprehensive, publication, Hocknull and colleagues describe the remains of three individual dinosaur skeletons, found during joint Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum and Queensland Museum digs in two different sites in the Winton Formation. They represent three new genera and species of dinosaur: two giant herbivorous sauropods and a carnivorous theropod.
The carnivore, named by the authors on the paper Australovenator wintonensis (nicknamed “Banjo”) is the most complete meat-eating dinosaur found in Australia, to date and sheds light on the ancestry of the largest-ever meat-eating dinosaurs, the carcharodontosaurs, a group of dinosaurs that became gigantic, like Giganotosaurus.
“The cheetah of his time, Banjo was light and agile,” said lead author Scott Hocknull. “He could run down most prey with ease over open ground. His most distinguishing feature was three large slashing claws on each hand. Unlike some theropods that have small arms (think T. rex), Banjo was different; his arms were a primary weapon.
“He’s Australia's answer to Velociraptor, but many times bigger and more terrifying.”
The skeleton of Australovenator solves a 28-year-old mystery surrounding an ankle bone found in Victoria, which was originally classified as a dwarf Allosaurus, although this classification remained controversial until the discovery of Australovenator—the researchers are now able to confirm that the ankle bone belonged to the lineage that led to Australovenator.
The two plant-eating theropods, named Witonotitan wattsi (“Clancy”) and Diamantinasaurus matildae (“Matilda”), are different kinds of titanosaur (the largest type of dinosaur ever to have lived). While Witonotitan represents a tall, gracile animal, which might have fitted into a giraffe-like niche, the stocky, solid Diamantinasaurus represents a more hippo-like species.
All three dinosaurs are nicknamed after characters from a world-famous, Australian poet. Banjo Patterson composed Waltzing Matilda in 1885 in Winton, where the song was also first performed (and where the fossils were discovered). Waltzing Matilda is now considered to be Australia’s national song.
In a quirky twist of fate, the song Waltzing Matilda describes the unfortunate demise of a swag-man, who steals a jumbuck (sheep) but is driven to leap into a billabong (an Australian word for a small oxbow lake) to avoid being captured by the police. He ends up drowning in the billabong alongside the stolen sheep.
Banjo and Matilda were found buried together in what turns out to be a 98-million-year-old billabong. Whether they died together or got stuck in the mud together remains a mystery; however, echoing the song, both predator and possible prey met their end at the bottom of a billabong, 98 million years ago. This shows that processes that were working in the area over the last 98 million years are still there today. “Billabongs are a built-in part of the Australian mind,” said Hocknull, “because we associate them with mystery, ghosts and monsters.”
The finding and documentation of the fossils was a 100% Australian effort. Both Matilda and Banjo were prepared by Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum thanks to thousands of hours of volunteer work and philanthropy.
“This is the only place in Australia where you can come off the street and be taught to be a palaeontologist and find, excavate and prepare your own part of Australian natural history,” said Hocknull. The dinosaurs will now be part of a museum collection and this effort will enable future generations of scientists to be involved in a new wave of dinosaur discoveries and to bring the general public in touch with their own natural heritage.”
This collaborative effort links closely with PLoS ONE’s philosophy of making science freely accessible to the general public. “One of my major motivations for submitting to PLoS ONE was the fact that my research will reach a much wider community, including the hundreds of volunteers and public who gave their time and money to the development of natural history collections,” said Hocknull. “They are the backbone of our work (excuse the pun) and they usually never get to see their final product because they rarely subscribe to scientific journals.”
All three new taxa, along with some fragmentary remains from other taxa, indicate a diverse Early Cretaceous sauropod and theropod fauna in Australia, and the finds will help provide a better understanding of the Australian dinosaurian record, which is, in turn, crucial for the understanding of the global palaeobiogeography of dinosaurian groups.
The authors agree that even though hundreds of bones have already been found at the site, these fossils are just the tip of the iceberg. “Many hundreds more fossils from this dig await preparation and there is much more material left to excavate,” they said. Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum and Queensland Museum staff and volunteers will continue to dig at this and other sites in 2010.
The fossils will be unveiled at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History in Queensland, Australia, July 3 by Anna Bligh, the Premier of Queensland. Stage 1 of the museum, a non-profit, volunteer-driven, science initiative that aims to bring Australian dinosaurs to the world, will also be opened by Ms Bligh on July 3. The full scientific findings are set out in the paper, “New Mid-Cretaceous (Latest Albian) Dinosaurs from Winton, Queensland,” Australia, published July 3 in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE.
All works published in PLoS ONE are Open Access. Everything is immediately available—to read, download, redistribute, include in databases and otherwise use—without cost to anyone, anywhere, subject only to the condition that the original authors and source are properly attributed.
About Australian Age of Dinosaurs
Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History
Stage 1: Staff quarters and a large building to house the dinosaur collection, fossil prep lab, temporary visitor facilities and related infrastructure has now opened as part of the Qld Government’s Q150 Legacy Infrastructure Funding Program.
Stage 2: Due for completion in 2010/11, Stage 2 involves further site development and the construction of a reception and administration centre. Funding has been approved by the Federal Government under the Better Regions Funding Program.
Stage 3: The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History is scheduled for completion in 2015 and will be a world class education and science institution with substantial display, teaching and research facilities.
About Queensland Museum
Queensland Museum, custodian of the state’s natural and cultural heritage, is at the forefront of palaeontological research – working extensively on Australia’s ancient reefs and rainforests, uncovering the long history of climate change and its influence on the Australian environment.
About PLoS ONE
PLoS ONE is the first journal of primary research from all areas of science to employ a combination of peer review and post-publication rating and commenting, to maximize the impact of every report it publishes. PLoS ONE is published by the Public Library of Science (PLoS), the open-access publisher whose goal is to make the world’s scientific and medical literature a public resource.
New Dinosaurs Announcement Speech — David Elliott, AAOD Chairman
Today Australia has reached one of its finest palaeontological milestones. The announcement of one new Australian dinosaur is world news – the announcement of three is out of this world.
As we stand before these prehistoric
relics today we have the opportunity to marvel at just what can be
achieved by everyday people who set out to do extraordinary things.
The amazing thing is the bones we've prepared so far are less than half of what we have recovered from the digs over the past four years, and what we have recovered is only a fraction of what we know of in the district. We’ve hardly scratched the surface.
David Elliot with the reconstructed skull of Banjo
We now know of over 30 dinosaur sites in the Winton district and more are coming to light each year. At our current rate of recovery and preparation that is enough fossil material to keep this facility working for at least three decades and probably more like five.
This incredible geological resource known as the Winton Formation has now produced more dinosaur fossils than the rest of Australia combined and has made Winton the Dinosaur Capital of Australia.
Australovenator, Diamantinasaurus and Wintonotitan are the first new dinosaurs to be formally named from the Winton Formation, but they are merely the first of many. There are literally tons of new dinosaur fossils in our storage facility awaiting preparation, with many more incredible new dinosaur sites waiting to be excavated.
The discovery, recovery and preparation of three new dinosaur species would not have been possible without the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum’s regional infrastructure and facilities, and the support of local Winton landholders, volunteers and the Queensland Museum. This highlights the crucial necessity of a regionally based institution to ensure that this work continues into the future.
The rarity of Australian dinosaurs has meant that there is a huge gap in our knowledge of the evolution of not just Australia, but the world. There are countless researchers and institutions throughout the world that have a vested interest in the evolution of Australian dinosaurs and their relationship with the rest of the world.
The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum has a bona fide scientific collection that will allow future generations of scientists the opportunity to be involved in a new era of dinosaur discovery. It has already amassed the world’s largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils and with scientific support from the Queensland Museum, has been able to unlock the mystery surrounding some of the fascinating dinosaurs that once roamed Australia.
This is the only place in Australia where individuals with no prior experience can become actively involved in the recovery and conservation of Australia’s dinosaurs on an everyday basis and contribute directly to the conservation of their own natural heritage. This has been happening for several years now in an old tin shed on a sheep station and look what has been achieved. Imagine what we can do together with this facility and even more importantly, imagine what we can achieve when we have built the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History.
The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History aims to be the foremost provider of Australian natural history products and facilities through an interactive education facility for primary and secondary school children, a study and research base for universities both in Australia and overseas and a world class attraction for domestic and international tourists. We aim to develop an Australian Icon that will capture the imagination of all Australians and people from around the world.
We now know that Australia does have dinosaurs and there were a lot of them, and our team is determined to bring them back to life so that people from all over the world can come and see them. We have the fossils, we have the passion and we now have the beginnings of what will become an iconic institution that Queensland and Australia can be proud of.
3 July 2009
Reaction to the New Discoveries
collated by the Australian Science Media Centre
Dr John Long is a palaeontologist and Head of Sciences at Museum Victoria.
"Wow! This is amazing stuff. I would regard the paper by Scott Hucknull and his team as one of the most significant papers ever published on Australian dinosaurs to date. It not only presents us with two new amazing long-necked giants of the ancient Australian continent, but also announces our first really big predator known from more than scrappy remains - Australovenator. This find also solves an old debate that has been raging since 1981 over Victoria's 'Allosaurus' that is known from a single ankle bone, as it now appears to belong to Australoventor, which shows interesting links to the truly gargantuan group of Gondwana meat-eaters, the carcharodontosauroids.
This paper puts Australia back on the international map of big dinosaur discoveries for the first time since 1981 - when Muttaburrasaurus was announced."
Dr Tom Rich is Senior Curator (Vertebrate Palaeontology and palaeobotany) at Museum Victoria.
“Where the Winton Formation is commonly exposed, there is a layer of black soil typically about one metre thick. Since at least the 1930s, fossil bones have been found on that surface. However, they were typically isolated bones and often badly broken. Digging in the black soil with hand tools is soul-destroying work. Sort of like digging in a solid mass of rubber. When people did that in the past, little if anything was found in that layer. After finally digging through the black soil and into the underlying sandy clays, the fossil bones found were often disappointing. What Hocknull, the Elliots, and their colleagues have done is to use bulldozers to follow surface traces of bone below the black soil over large areas and then do a lot of digging in the underlying sandy clays. That strategy involved a lot of hard work and expensive machine time. It did not pay off immediately. But it did pay off because they were persistent. They now have demonstrated the appropriateness of a technique that will no doubt reveal much more about the fossil tetrapods of the Winton Formation in the years to come than has been learned before. As the previous record of Australian dinosaurs is so meagre, this heralds a real advance in the years to come.
The three specimens reported by Hocknull and colleagues join less than a dozen others known from this continent from more than a single bone. The theropod is the first occurrence of that group known from anything more than an isolated element. The sauropods show a diversity of titanosaurs in Australia. This group is quite diversified in the Cretaceous of other continents, particularly South America. And it was to be expected that with further discoveries in Australia, this would be found to be the case here. Hocknull and colleagues have found the physical evidence demonstrating that this expectation was in fact correct.
Scott Hocknull was working very closely with David and Judy Elliott of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum in Winton, Queensland. All three of them worked closely together for a number of years to bring off this result. In doing so, they attracted to their project a number of devoted persons who have been critical in their achieving together what they have accomplished.”
Associate Professor Rod Wells is from the School of Biological Sciences at Flinders University, SA. Rod is a vertebrate palaeontologist best known for discovering the Naracoorte Caves fossil deposit in SA. He’s an expert in fossil marsupials.
“Mention the word ‘fossil ‘and the immediate response is ‘dinosaur’. Children in particular love their dinosaurs, but when we think of dinosaurs we think North America, Europe, South America, Africa, not Australia. Australia is the exciting new frontier in vertebrate palaeontology, a continent as large as North America awaiting exploration. The dearth of mountain building events on this continent has meant we have no ‘Grand Canyons’ with exposed rock layers spilling fossils; finding fossils in Australia is difficult, time consuming and labour intensive, but the rewards can be outstanding.
Scott Hocknull from the Queensland Museum and his team of volunteers have shown what can be achieved by involving the community in the excitement of scientific discovery. They have opened a new window on the dinosaur fauna of a ~110 million year old portion of the world that remains largely unexplored, indeed a unique Australian fossil heritage. Their work is an exemplar of what can be achieved with limited resources, making an important contribution to basic science, to science education, as well as to the economy of the local community through the Age of Dinosaurs Museum. I applaud their efforts.”
Dr Ben Kear is a palaeontologist based at La Trobe University in Melbourne and an honorary research associate with the SA Museum.
“Australia is one of the great untapped resources in our current understanding of life from the Age of Dinosaurs. The discoveries of Hocknull and colleagues will definitely reinvigorate interest in the hitherto tantalizingly incomplete but globally significant record from this continent and pave the way for new studies on Australian dinosaurs and their environments.”
Aaron Camens is a PhD research student at the SA Museum and the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Adelaide. His main research focus is on fossil marsupials.
“Hocknull and colleagues’ discovery is a fantastic new addition to Australia's Cretaceous dinosaur record. It also opens a new window into our understanding of dinosaur evolution in the Southern Hemisphere. The Winton Formation is the centre of dinosaurian palaeontology in Australia and Hocknull is right in the thick of it. SA has a grand total of three dinosaur bones, I'm packing my bags for Queensland!”