The discovery of the 100-million-year-old skeleton of a giant marine reptile in Australia has been hailed by researchers as a breakthrough that may provide vital clues to prehistoric life.
Remains of the 6-meter (19-foot) tall juvenile long-necked plesiosaur, also known as an elasmosaurus, were found by a trio of amateur fossil hunters at a cattle station in the western Queensland interior in August.
Espen Knutsen, senior curator of paleontology at the Queensland Museum, compared the discovery to that of the Rosetta Stone, the Ancient Egyptian block of granite rediscovered in 1799 that experts helped decipher the hieroglyphics.
“We have never found a body and a head together and this could hold the key to further research in this field,” Knutsen said in a statement on Wednesday confirming the discovery, adding that it could give paleontologists a greater understanding of the origins. evolution and ecology. of the Cretaceous period in the region.
“Because these plesiosaurs were two-thirds necked, often the head was separated from the body after death, making it very difficult to find a fossil preservation of both together,” he said.
The discovery was made by amateur paleontologists known as “Rock Chicks”: Cassandra Prince, her sister Cynthia, and fellow fossil detective Sally, who is known only by her first name.
Growing between 8 and 10 meters long, elasmosaurs lived in the Eromanga Sea, which covered much of the Australian outback with water 50 meters deep around 150 million years ago.
Knutsen told CNN that when an elasmosaur died, its decaying body bloated with gas causing it to rise to the surface of the water, and often the head would break off when predators rummaged through the carcass, making rare deaths. full body discoveries.
He added that because the latest find was a young specimen, it would shed light on how elasmosaurid body shape changed from youth to adulthood.
“We’re going to look at the chemistry of their teeth and that can also tell us something about their ecology in terms of habitat, whether they were migrating throughout their lives, or whether they stayed in the same habitat, and also their diet,” he said. .
Ancient marine reptiles like plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs are not classified as dinosaurs even though they lived at the same time. Plesiosaurs evolved from land-dwelling ancestors and therefore had no gills and occasionally had to surface for air. It is unknown how long they could stay underwater.
It is the latest major discovery about prehistory that has been made in Australia in recent years.
In June of last year, scientists confirmed that the 2007 discovery of a fossilized skeleton in Queensland was the country’s largest dinosaur. The dinosaur, nicknamed “Cooper,” was about two stories tall and as long as a basketball court.
Two months later, scientists discovered that there was once a kind of Flying Dragon” which rose above Australia 105 million years ago. The researchers described the pterosaur as a “fearsome beast” that preyed on juvenile dinosaurs.
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