The Far North Queensland Fossil Heritage Expeditions

introduce many primary and secondary students to palaeontology.
All finds are donated to Australian museums and universities.
The fourteen expeditions to date 1992-2006 illuminated a genuine public interest
in the earth sciences and planted the seed for the creation of
this website, Earth Science Australia which went on-line via
the rural and remote, pioneer, volunteer ISP Bushnet in 1996.

A 110 million year lagoon of a shallow sea - dinosaurs, ichthyosaurs, giant squids:
Last days of Ichthyosaur 960901
The discovery of Ichthyosaur 960901 - 1996 dig
The fate of Ichthyosaur 970602 - 1997 dig
1996-1997 Photo gallery of Ichthyosaurs
Cretaceous Ichthyosaurs of Australia
1998 in search of the giant squid
2000 mystery tracks in the sand
A 4.2 million year old spring and fresh water pool - megafauna, giant marsupials, turtles, crocodiles:
1999 a new species of 4.2m.y.old Diprotodontid
Dig 2001
Dig 2002
Dig 2003
Dig 2006

Introduction by Sir David Attenborough

" Hit a block of rock with a hammer . It splits apart.
And there, glinting in the first rays of the sun to shine on it...
protrudes the gem like tooth of a fossilised creature.
You are the first human being ever to see it.
Few hearts do not beat faster at that enchanting moment."
Sir David Attenborough, London 1991
in the introduction to Riversleigh by Michael Archer, Suzanne J. Hand
and Henk Godthelp ISBN 0 7301 0314 5 All you wanted to know about Ichthyosaurs
Tribute to Australian Palaeontologist Mary Wade 1928-2005

The Last Days of Ichthyosaur 960901

an IchthyosaurPregnant, sick and weak, unable to eat, with just two small gastroliths (grinding stones swallowed and used for breaking up food and ballast) and three fish vertebrae in its stomach Ichthyosaur 960901, used its last remaining energy to head out to deeper water.

Having made its way away from immediate predators, the 5 to 7 metre long dolphin look-alike and its unborn baby, died.

Its body quickly bloated in the warm, shallow seas that existed then, 100 million years ago, causing it to float even higher in the water than in life.

After a while its rotting carcass was attacked and eaten; ribs and all.

Buoyancy was lost and the heavy head, with spinal column attached dropped into the depths. The massive jaws speared into the oxygen poor gritty muck.

The spinal column and attached flesh, having been relieved of the weight of the head, was now able to float again, attached to the head anchored in the mud. Eventually the remaining flesh was eaten or rotted and the spinal bones deposited in a radial pattern on the surface of the mud.

Time passes. Mud rains on mud, deeper and deeper, slowly transforming bone to rock. Flowering plants replace conifers, cycads and ferns. Mountains build and erode. Time passes.The seas dry. The dinosaurs, rulers of the earth reach their zenith, then fade. Volcanoes come and go. Snakes, birds and bees appear. Mammals stalk the night and dominate the continents. They return to the sea as whales. Time passes. Giant sharks rule the sea. Ice ages come and go. Time passes. Rainforests cover Australia - gradually drying. Rock, once bone is exposed - a chance contact with a human.

A skeleton in a perilous place is excavated. Fourteen days later a freak storm, 200mm of rain in 24 hours, inundates the small gully; but the skeleton is already safe. A three dimensional jigsaw puzzle is cleaned, protected, reassembled over 3 months in the Home Economics room by the students of  Mount St. Bernard College and forwarded to the The Queensland Museum - Kronosaurus Korner for all to see.

Ichthyosaur flipper 960901   Rescuing Distressed Dinosaurs- all finds donated to Australian Museums   Ichthyosaur Jaw-->click for bigger image


The Discovery of Ichthyosaur 960901

some of the 80 vertebra of ichthyosaur 970602Ichthyosaur 960901 lay barely visible in the sunlight - just a glimpse of a few vertebrae. It emerged from its 100,000,000-year-old time capsule relatively intact. The preservation of any reptile remains over this mind-bendingly long period of time is a very chancy affair. - a miracle in itself.

Only an infinitesimally small proportion of even the most abundant creature that lived in previous geological periods have left any trace of their passing.

ichthyosaur jawBig and massive hard parts preferentially survive, particularly if they become entombed in lime, sand or mud.

The fossil record is a record of the ability of certain hard parts of creatures to endure. Vast numbers of species, and probably nearly all softbodied creatures, of which there is no trace or record, must have existed.

As a chronicle, it is an imperfect and incomplete series of discarded fragments of life through space and time.

As a tool it is probably one of the most powerful things we have in understanding the nature of change in natural environments and the temporary nature of the human condition.

The Fate of Ichthyosaur 970602

- click for larger image

jaw and vertebrae Ichthyosaur 970602-->click for larger imageWe believe the specimen demonstrates that this Ichthyosaur was dead and floating.

This is curious were Ichthyosaurs susceptible to a particular disease or did a food source develop a toxic defence?? - many seem to be "floaters" or is it just that floaters by spearing into the deep mud, increase their chances of preservation?

Why we think this one was a "floater"

Photo Gallery 1996-1997

-click for a larger image
  Ichthyosaur paddle 960901  an ichthyosaur paddle is made up of numerous bones called "phalanges"

Fred age 7 finds a dinosaur jaw   Fred age 7 finds an ichthyosaur jaw

our exploration team from the Torres Strait to Bexhill, England ages 7 to 70   rough camping after a 14 hour drive

Ichthyosaur 960901 on display at the Richmond Museum  our ichthyosaur on display at the museum

Some of the 80 vertebrae of Ichthyosaur 960901   ichthyosaurs have a great number of vertebrae

Expedition Logo 1997   our logo for 1997

Mary Anning sold the first Ichthyosaur fossils as Sea dragons   Mary Anning sold the first ichthyosaurs as "Sea Dragons"

Cretaceous Ichthyosaurs of Australia

Ichthyosaurs were reptiles perfectly designed for a life of hunting fish, squids andan ammoniteammonites in well-lit shallow seas. These "dolphin look-a-likes" had a streamlined body, fins, paddles and long, narrow jaws. They had enormous eyes and massive jaws and backbones. They gave birth to live young.

Dating from the Triassic; common in the Jurassic; Ichthyosaurs survived as fast-swimming predators into the late Cretaceous ending a span on earth of about 150 million years.

  Platypterygius ("broad - fin") is the most common Ichthyosaur genus found in Australia and the last of their kind... It existed over a wide range of both space and time from the Lower Cretaceous to the Early part of the Upper Cretaceous.

Mary Wade (1984) of the Queensland Museum describes Far North Queensland finds in detail.

Paddles were long, composed of tightly packed bones calledichthyosaur paddlephalanges, which proximally have a distinctive rectangular shape, like house bricks, and are arranged in regular columns, or finger rows, numbering up to ten. Distally, however; the individual elements vary in shape, some being rectangular, others polygonal and others are rounded giving a cross-section across the paddles resembling an airfoil.

The paddles are robust and the large size of the pectoral girdles with which they are articulated suggests they may have been used for paddling as well as for steering.

The teeth are so closely set that when thejaws close they mesh together leaving no gaps. This type of dentition - found today in dolphins and seals suggests a diet of small fast-moving prey such as squid.

Some researchers think that the ichthyosaurs drove their prey down into unoxygenated waters in the bottoms of lagoons - gill breathers suffocated and were easy to catch while the air breathing ichthyosaurs were unaffected.This environment also accounts for the unusually good levels of preservation, the preservation of squid shells and other materials not normally well represented in the fossil record.

Such prey require a fast snapping action of the jaws - there is no time to chew. Muscle scars close to the jaw joint suggest small contractions of the muscles would have brought about large movements at the tips of the jaws .

A remarkable large orbit and sclerotic ring suggest Ichthyosaurs had very large eyes to assist in hunting but it is not evidence of any ability to echo-locate as in whales.

Buoyancy created adaptations in these creatures. Buoyed up by water, the vertebrae lost their interlocking joints and were simplified as flattened discs, bearing neutral spines. Double headed ribs articulated to these discs and flared out to form a body that was deeply rounded in cross-section.

The large body mass to surface area would have made the creatures float much too high in the water to be able to hunt effectively, so instead of having porous bones their bones are nearly solid. Like crocodiles they also would have selectively swallowed stones to achieve a more neutral buoyancy.

1998 Expedition  - finding giant squids

Parts of a giant squid

parts of a giant squid

giant squid
-click on an expedition image for a larger image

Our Giant Squid 981001

Our 100 million year old giant squid, based on the size of its shell, must have been about 6 metres long!
Squid fossils of this size are rare possibly due to preservation requirements.

1 metre long cuttlebone of our giant squid - 1998

Photo of our 1 metre long squid
shell "cuttlebone" shown below left.

It was eatenby Australia's
 swimming T-Rex Kronosaurus -Australia's swimming T-Rex!kronosaurus queenslandicus

See our Kronosaurus Page - Australia's swimming T-Rex

Our Giant Squid another viewThe discovery of squid remains is a very rare event - normally the "cuttlebone", fragile and weak is rapidly destroyed in an oxygen rich environment. We believe the site of this discovery is quite unique - an oxygen poor deep lagoon full of alkaline mud, beside a reef.

Far North Queensland Fossil Heritage Expedition 1999 - a new diprotodontid

New Diprotodontid 990701 euowenia coreis
See the photos is this a new species of the diprotodontid bullock size marsupial  euowenia
the second specimen only of the rare euowenia coreis -click on an image for a larger image

lower jaw view 1 of euowenia     lower jaw view 1 of euowenia

lower jaw view 2       lower jaw  view 2 of euowenia

- note excessive tooth wear of old individual

lower jaw view 3 of euowenia     lower jaw view 3 of euowenia

lower jaw view 4 of euowenia             lower jaw view 4 of euowenia

tusk of diprotodontid                         tusk of diprotodontid

teeth as yet unclassified                    teeth as yet unclassified

tooth detail                        tooth detail

removing the jawbone from its matrix                removing the jawbone from its matrix

1998 expedition discoveries     1998 expedition discoveries

marsupial limb bone fragments              marsupial limb bone fragments

The  Far North Queensland Fossil Heritage Expedition 1999 centered on a 4.2 million year old lake site protected by a basalt lava flow. We had worked this site during the prolonged drought 1992-1995  then decided to leave if for a few wet seasons to give time for more material to wash into the drainage and to clear the drainage system of wind blown soil and dust from the last drought.. The site has resulted in the discovery of a number of new species and a particularly interesting crocodilian.
The lake or plunge pool was fed by a spring that still exists and contained two species of crocodile and a couple of species of turtle. Surrounding the lake was thick forest full of bullock size  marsupial browsers  and grazers, possums similar to those found today, kangaroos, wallabies,  large flightless birds, pythons and koala like creatures. The bones of creatures that fell into the pool or were taken by crocodiles flushed down stream in the annual flooding and rapidly buried  by the sand. The area was capped by a basalt lava flow which as it weathered provided silica to leave the bones; though shattered, and scattered, in remarkably good condition.
The drainage system was only partially cleared resulting in difficult field conditions.
Field identifications identify the lower jaw of a large diprotodontid, a vertebra of a very large python , a vertebra of a large flightless bird and a possible beak fragment among a range of single teeth and bones.

Far North Queensland Fossil Heritage Expedition 2000 - mystery tracks

- click on image for a larger image
expedition logo 2000   expedition logo 2000

Ichthyosaur Jaw - completes recovery of ichthyosaur 960901 started in 1996

final jaw fragment ichthyosaur 960901recovered 1996-2000        final jaw fragment ichthyosaur 960901 recovered 1996-2000

discovery photo of jaw fragment and tooth fragment       discovery photo of jaw fragment and tooth

another view of ichthyosaur jaw and tooth fragment.       another view of ichthyosaur jaw and tooth fragment.

mystery tracks - crab tracks? - notice curved marks on median strip     crab tracks 110 million years old

more crab tracks and crab burrow with unnamed burrow    burrow of creature unclassified 110million years old

Plesiosaur rib in sandstone    Expedition team 2000       Mad dogs and Englishman

plesiosaur rib fragmentsexpedition team 2000mad dogs and Englishman (Englishman is the respectable guy in the centre)camp yarns

Late rain hampered this years expedition by dumping large amounts of soil into the drainage system. As a result we could not follow trains of fragments up from drainage systems but had to work the less productive hill sides. As a result it was more difficult for the students on the expedition to train their eyes into identifying bone fragments. Despite these initial difficulties we were successful in obtaining some interesting specimens for the Richmond Museum of Marine Fossils. We were delighted to find a missing jaw fragment from Ichthyosaur 960901 - excavated in 1996 and found fragments from a number of other ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs which we left in situ for future teams as we were unable to trace them to source on this occasion. Many thanks to Mr. Scott Moore-Fay who flew over from England to join our team - his enthusiasm and insights were greatly valued by all. Thanks to the Priority Country Area Program on behalf of the Commonwealth Government of Australia for a grant to subsidise our diesel fuel costs.

Dig 2001  - finding new study locations

- sorry we have no photos - we found one diprotodontid jaw, an elderly individual, in a different drainage but spent most of the time looking for new sites to look at in detail in 2002

Dig 2002 - 4.2 million year old megafauna

- giant marsupials at an old spring site, the number of individuals with well worn teeth at this site is quite perplexing
-click on an expedition image for a larger image

Diprotodontid possibly euowenia, an old individual

Diprotodontid tusks and jaw

detail showing exceptional tooth wear

tusk detail

reptilian jaw

Dig 2003 waiting on images

Dig 2006 - Australian macrofauna 4.2million years old

Participants (1) (2) (3)

 -images only text to follow

indent caused by crocodile tooth mammal bone with evidence of its killer see indent of crocodile tooth

more crocodile tooth intents on other bones (2)  (3)  (4)  (panorama)

tusk diprotodontid tusk... more tusk images  (1)

diprotodontid jaw unidentified diprotodontid jaw as yet unidentified...

more views of the jaw  (1)  (2)  (3)  (4)

various teeth  diprotodontid and other unidentified teeth...  tooth

mammal bones... (1) (2)  (3)   (4)

crocodile teeth  crocodile teeth...crocodile jaw

turtle carapace  turtle carapace...  another view

main site...  bench

fossilised dropping  coprolite -fossilised  dropping

About the expeditions

We support the
The Queensland Museum - Kronsaurus Korner
P.O. Box 113, 91 Goldring Street
Richmond, Queensland Australia
telephone +061 070 413 429  Robert Ievers

free hit counter