Opal-Encrusted Fossils Reveal a New Species of Australian Dinosaur

Opal-Encrusted Fossils Reveal a New Species of Australian Dinosaur
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The paleontologists in Australia identified the fossilized bones of a formerly unknown plant-eating dinosaur. Amazingly, the mid-Cretaceous Australian dinosaur’s fossils were conserved in opal.

The dinosaur species, described as Fostoria dhimbangunmal, is related to Iguanodon and Muttaburrasaurus, according to the researches published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. The place where the fossils of four specimens were found is Lightning Ridge, a little town in the Australian Outback. In the area named “Sheepyard,” an opal miner named Robert Foster was working 10 meters (33 feet) below the field when discovered the fossils in 1984. He is the one who alerted their presence to the paleontologists, according to a report in The Australian.

The opal-encrusted fossils were displayed at the Australian Museum for decades until the Foster family donated them to the Australian Opal Centre where the researchers began to examine them. Phil Bell from the University of New England in Armidale, Australia, is the one that led the examination. A new species of Australian dinosaur was found and named in honor of Foster and the field where they were discovered, as the name dhimbangunmal means sheep yard in the local indigenous language Yawaalaraay.

The opal gemstones form underground, in long periods, from a solution of silicon dioxide and water and make the place of Lightning Ridge famous. Even though finding odd bone or tooth clothed in opal is not unusual, the discovery of almost 60 opal-encrusted bones from an adult Fostoria (with the braincase too) is a first.

Opal-Encrusted Fossils Reveal a New Species of Australian Dinosaur

In the new study were found another three young individuals mixed together in the opal mine and made Bell report in National Geographic that those were not lonely animals and lived in herds or families. A CT scan was used to analyze the fossils without damaging them. Living 100 million years ago, in the mid-Cretaceous, Fostoria, the herbivorous creature becomes the earliest known iguanodontian dinosaur found on Australian ground.

In the mid-Cretaceous, the dusty and dry region of New South Wales thrived in rivers, lagoons, and vast areas of vegetation. James wrote for the National Geographic that Fostoria was “an early member of a group that would elsewhere evolve into the duck-billed hadrosaurs, which were common in North America and Asia toward the end of the time of the dinosaurs.”

Liz Freedman Fowler, an assistant professor of biology at Dickinson State University who wasn’t involved in the researches, is fascinated about the fact that we have “a bonebed of new dinosaurs” from Australia and more intrigued about the fact that the bones are conserved in the beautiful opal.

Paleontologist Terry Gates from the Department of Biological Sciences at North Carolina State University, also not involved in the researches, states that there is a long history of Australia producing “bizarre and amazing creatures” and assigns this to the fact that the geographic position isolates the continent. In an email sent to Gizmodo, Gates, fascinated by the opal-encrusted fossils, explains the Fostoria discovery “fills in a glaring gap in our understanding of duck-billed dinosaur evolution in a spectacular way.”


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