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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 September, 2003, 14:42 GMT 15:42 UK
Outback hunt for turkey-sized raptors
By Sharon Mascall in Australia

Theropod claw, Sharon Mascall
A theropod claw was one of the finds
A remote sheep station in outback Queensland, Australia, is providing evidence of small, turkey-sized dinosaurs that lived 100 million years ago.

More claws and teeth were found in two days at The Age Of Dinosaurs dig near Winton, 1,100 kilometres (684 miles) northwest of Brisbane, than would normally be discovered over 30 years of digging at most sites, according to palaeontologists.

"We've found lots of wonderful things," said Alex Cook, a senior curator at the Queensland Museum.

"We've found all sorts of bones we've not seen before. It's very exciting. We're finally getting small dinosaurs out of Queensland."

Volunteer effort

Until now, evidence of Australian coelurosaurs - raptors the size of a turkey - had been limited to fossilised footprints, such as those at Lark Quarry, 110 km (68 miles) southwest of Winton.

Fossil hunters, Sharon Mascall
Volunteers are helping on the dig
But now, volunteers working with palaeontologists have discovered a bed rich in fossils and fragments of dinosaur bone.

"Coelurosaurs were like those little dinosaurs in Jurassic Park that hunt down and kill.

"They're small with razor-sharp teeth, long spindly hands and long fingers with sharp claws.

"They were agile, and very fast," explained Scott Hocknull, a Queensland Museum palaeontologist at the dig.

"In two days, we've found two claws from these two-legged dinosaurs and it's the first time we've found anything like this. They're so well preserved," he said.

Giant remains

Sheep station owners David and Judy Elliott have discovered their property is a lucky dip for dinosaur remains.

Four years ago, David Elliott discovered the thigh bone of Australia's biggest dinosaur - now nicknamed "Elliot" - while he was out mustering sheep.

Investigations at the Queensland Museum revealed that Elliot was a sauropod the size of a three-storey house. The beast lived almost 100 million years ago.

David Elliott now combines looking after 12,000 sheep with hunting for dinosaurs.

The Age Of Dinosaurs is his attempt to bring local people together with experts to establish a museum, carry our research and conduct more digs to find more remains.

Rich pickings

"Local people are out there 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said Scott Hocknull.

"We rely on them; we need to train people up so when they find something they know what to do about it."

Recognised as a site for megafauna such as prehistoric giant birds and crocodiles, Australia has, until recently, been largely overlooked by palaeontologists.

The black soil of remote sites such as the Elliott property tends to throw up fragments rather than full skeletons. But that, according to Scott Hocknull, makes it no less exciting.

"Here there's so much to be found. What we've found at this dig is just the tip of the iceberg."


SEE ALSO:
Sea monster with a toothache
06 Feb 03  |  Science/Nature
Australia unearths fossilised giants
30 Jul 02  |  Asia-Pacific



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