Page last updated at 04:48 GMT, Friday, 3 July 2009 05:48 UK

New dinosaurs found in Australia

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The dinosaur discovery is "a major breakthrough"

Australian palaeontologists say they have discovered three new dinosaur species after examining fossils dug up in Queensland.

Writing in the journal PLoS One, they describe one of the creatures as a fearsome predator with three large slashing claws on each hand.

The other two were herbivores: one a tall giraffe-like creature, the other of stocky build like a hippopotamus.

The fossils date back nearly 100 million years.

They were found in rocks known as the Winton Formation.

The dinosaurs have names relating to Australia's famous folk ballad Waltzing Matilda.

The carnivore, which has the scientific classification Australovenator wintonensis, has therefore been dubbed "Banjo" after Andrew Barton "Banjo" Patterson, who composed the song in Winton in 1885.

Queensland Museum palaeontologist Scott Hucknell said the creature would have been a terrifying prospect.

"The cheetah of his time, Banjo was light and agile. He could run down most prey with ease over open ground," he told reporters.

FROM BBC WORLD SERVICE

The two plant-eating, four-legged sauropod species are new types of titanosaurs - the largest animals ever to walk the Earth.

"Clancy" (scientific name: Witonotitan wattsi) was a tall slender animal, while Matilda (Diamantinasaurus matildae) was more stocky and hippo-like.

Banjo and Matilda - possibly predator and his prey - were found buried together in a 98-million-year-old billabong, or stagnant pond.

Dinos (Travis TISCHLER/AFP/Getty Images)
A comparison of all three: "Matilda" (L), "Clancy" (C) and "Banjo" (R)

The findings have been published in the public access journal Public Library of Science One (PLoS One), and were announced by Queensland Premier Anna Bligh at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History in Winton.

She said the discoveries were a major breakthrough in the scientific understanding of prehistoric life in Australia.

Museum Victoria palaeontologist John Long described the fossils as "amazing".

The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper quoted him as saying that the creatures put Australia back on the international map of big dinosaur discoveries for the first time since 1981, when the unearthing of Muttaburrasaurus, a large four-legged herbivore that could rear up on two legs, was announced.

The new species will be part of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History under construction in Winton. It should be completed in 2015.



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