by Tas Walker
Cattleman Ian Ievers, in 1989, went looking for fossils on Marathon Station, the family cattle property near Richmond in northwest Queensland, Australia.1,2 His search was rewarded when he found some bones sticking out of a gully. There was a skull with a slender snout, like a crocodile’s, and some vertebrae. The rest of the skeleton disappeared into the bank.
When the paleontologists at Queensland Museum in Brisbane heard of the discovery, they wasted no time organizing a recovery team. It could have been disastrous if the gully eroded in the coming wet season. Even cattle sliding down the slope could have damaged the find.
Usually, fossil remains are recovered only after a great effort, but this creature was buried in fairly loose sediment, mostly shell-grit. After just 30 minutes of digging, the team could see that the skeleton was of a plesiosaur. It turned out to be of a kind not previously known in Australia. It took a further four days for the team, with help from Ian, his brother Rob and other members of the family, to excavate the creature completely.
Plesiosaurs were air-breathing marine reptiles with a distinct neck, a prominent head and a round body. They are believed to be extinct. The creatures thrust themselves through the water with their four flippers and steered with their tail. The specimen buried on Marathon Station was 4.3 metres (14 ft) from the end of its nose to the tip of its tail.
When the team removed the overlying sediment, they found the animal flat on its back with its flippers splayed out. Remarkably, the bones were not a jumbled heap or scattered around. Rather, every bone was individually fossilized, lying untouched in the exact place where the animal was deposited. Only a few bones from one paddle were missing….
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