Following nearly three weeks of excavation work in search of dinosaur bones on a property west of Winton, the museum literally hit the jackpot just days before the end of its annual dig when the edge of a massive bone-bed was uncovered.
Initial identification of the find has confirmed that there is at least one dinosaur present at the site, but an unusual abundance of small bone encrusted nodules indicate that there may also be the presence of something more sinister.
According to chairman and founder of the not-for-profit AAOD Museum, David Elliott, the new dinosaur site has the hallmarks of a very high producing site and could well prove to be one of the museum’s most significant discoveries.
“This is a very large sauropod dinosaur but there are very unusual bone fragments in white siltstone nodules that point to the possibility of something else in the pit,” he said.
“This is so much like the Matilda dig site that produced bones from the carnivorous dinosaur Australovenator that it is uncanny.”
The new discovery was made only a few kilometres from where the holotype fossils of Australovenator and Diamantinasaurus were found buried beside each other between 2006 and 2009.
According to palaeontologist Dr Steve Poropat of the University of Uppsala in Sweden who attended the dig, the new sauropod discovery could well be the largest sauropod found in the area to date.
“It is still too early to say for sure if these fossils belong to Diamantinasaurus, Wintonotitan or something entirely different,” he said.
“One thing is for sure, if it is Diamantinasaurus then this animal was much larger than we thought as the bones we are uncovering are quite a lot bigger than those collected previously.”
Geologist and palaeontologist Matt White who also attended the dig said the discovery was made in the Winton Formation which is around 98 million years old and covers most of the Winton district.
“This site would have once been a freshwater river or swamp environment draining into an inland sea,” he said.
“Virtually all of the sites we have excavated in this area show that the fossils have been preserved in watercourses, possibly similar to the billabongs we find in the outback today.”
Excavation of the new dinosaur site will not be completed until next year (2013) with a field trip planned for May - June next year.
The AAOD dig involves members of the public under the guidance of AAOD staff and includes the involvement of research scientists from AAOD Museum, Queensland Museum and Uppsala University.
Mr Elliott said that without the support of eagle-eyed property owners, people from around the country who pay to attend the dig and the Winton Shire Council who supply equipment needed on site it would be impossible to make these discoveries.
“It is imperative that the AAOD Museum continues this work as it is only through our efforts to get these fossils out of the ground and in front of the public that we are ever going to have information about Australian dinosaurs to teach our children,” he said.
“To this end AAOD has been working with education authorities and NBN (National Broadband Network) to bring wider knowledge of Australia’s dinosaur heritage to all Australians.”
Earlier this year, AAOD opened the second stage of its natural history museum on a large mesa near Winton known as ‘The Jump-Up’. Construction of the new facility was supported by the Federal and Queensland Governments and joins the existing fossil preparation laboratory which is becoming known as one of the most productive dinosaur laboratories in the Southern Hemisphere. The museum boasts the largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils in the world.