Scientists have confirmed the discovery of a new species of dinosaur in Australia, one of the largest discovered in the world, more than a decade after breeders first discovered the animal’s bones.
The herbivorous sauropod lived during the Cretaceous between 92 million and 96 million years ago, when Australia was annexed by Antarctica, according to research published on Monday.
This makes the new species the largest dinosaur ever discovered in Australia, and puts it in the top five in the world, joining an elite group of titanosaurs previously found only in South America.
“Discoveries like this are just the tip of the iceberg,” said museum curator in Queensland and paleontologist Scott Hocknell.
Paleontologists have named the sauropod “Australotitan Cooperensis”, combining “southern titan” with the name of a stream near where the creature’s first bones were found in 2006 at a cattle farm in Eromanga, Queensland.
Confirmation of the new species marks a seventeen-year journey to the first excavation and then comparison of Cooper’s bones, as the dinosaur is more unofficially known, with other finds.
Dinosaur bones are huge, heavy and fragile and are stored in museums around the world, making research difficult.
The team at the Eromanga Museum of Natural History and the Queensland Museum is using a new digital technology for the first time to scan each bone three-dimensionally for comparison.
“To be sure that Australotitan is a different species, we had to compare its bones with the bones of other species from Queensland and worldwide,” Hocknall said. “It was a very long and painstaking task.”
Robin Mackenzie, who was gathering cattle with her husband Stewart at their mansion when the bones were discovered, founded the Eromanga Natural History Museum to house the find.
A series of further discoveries of dinosaur skeletons in the area, along with a rock shelf believed to have been the path of sauropods, are still awaiting full scientific study.
“Paleo tourism is huge worldwide, so we expect a lot of international interest when our borders reopen,” said Mackenzie, now a field paleontologist.
Hocknall said that even larger specimens of dinosaurs are waiting to be discovered, given that herbivorous sauropods have usually been victims of huge theropods.
“We found a few small theropod dinosaurs in Australia … but that wouldn’t bother Australotitan, which suggests there’s a very large predatory dinosaur out there. We just haven’t found it yet.”
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