An Ichthyosaur in the paddock


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An Ichthyosaur in the paddock

The story of Australian ichthyosaurs began in 1865, with a parcel sent to Professor Fredrick McCoy (1817–1899) at the National Museum of Victoria.

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It has been over 15 years since I excavated my first ichthyosaur skeleton from an eroding creek bank on Dunraven Station, not far from Hughenden in north-western Queensland. I can still vividly remember clinging precariously to shallow handholds cut into the steep slope, and gently peeling away layers of soft shale that was once fine sea-floor mud to reveal the ancient tan-coloured bones of a ‘real-life’ sea monster.

What came out of that cliff several days later, to be lovingly transported back to Sydney for preparation, was a narrow-snouted skull about a metreand-a-half long. Strangely, the back parts of the jaws were broken in half and had been violently shunted sideways. The brain case too, had collapsed and piled in on top of the nasal chamber. The clue as to how this horrific damage had occurred lay in the oddly-tilted orientation of the skull, which I noticed when I dug down through the rock. For me at least, this seemingly insignificant observation created an evocative picture of a long-lost world where, what are now the endless black-soil plains of western Queensland, were once the bottom of a vast inland sea stretching all the way from the Flinders Ranges in South Australia to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the far north.

AAOD Journal Issue 11 (2013) – pages 26 to 35 
By Dr Benjamin Kear

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