Digging for fossil secrets

THE former lake bed on the side of the South Gippsland Highway just near Minns Road in Koonwarra could be the focus of a major fossil hunt in the future.
Museums Victoria curator of vertebrate palaeontology Tom Rich and his crew spent last week excavating the site, in order to develop a plan for future fossil digs.
Dr Rich said the site has previously turned up fossils of small fish, plants and insects as well as nine feathers.
He said one of those feathers was “almost certainly” from a dinosaur.
“It shows they are around,” he said.
The site at Koonwarra was discovered in 1961 and was the location for major digs in the 1960s and in 1982. In 2013, the site was visited again, mainly for surveying purposes.
“What I am interested in is the bones of land animals and we haven’t found a single one here,” Dr Rich said.
Last week’s dig was undertaken to determine how the former lake bed can be effectively excavated, to best facilitate the hunt for dinosaur fossils.
Dr Rich said they were trying to determine whether or not they could remove the rock in blocks.
“The rock on the surface was breaking up so we dug a trench down about a metre to try and cut out more blocks to establish whether or not it was possible to do so,” he said.
“If we can’t take them (the blocks) out systematically, we will take them out in layers. It is certainly worth doing.”
The last dig aimed at recovering fossils at the site was in 1982.
Dr Rich said since then, technology had advanced greatly and there were now lots of ways to scan rocks to hunt for fossils.
He said the information gathered last week would be used to “formulate a sensible plan to take advantage of the technology that now exists”.
“We need to write a plan that suits 2020, not 1982. We would also like to figure out how to find places like this one,” he said.
“As technology develops opportunities may arise we didn’t have before. I hope by the end of the year, we will have the information we need to formulate the plan.”
Dr Rich said returning to complete the dig would depend on funding, but the Koonwarra was too important to ignore.
“Sooner or later it will happen, someday support will be found,” he said.
As a by-product of the survey, around 20 new fossils were found, including insects and fish.
Museums Victoria collections manager Tim Ziegler said the specimens would be taken back to the museum, documented and studied.
“They will become part of the state collection,” he said.

Fossil hunting: searching for fossils among the piles of rock at Koonwarra last week were, from left, Gerrit Kool from Wonthaggi, Mary Walters from Mount Waverley and Lesley Kool from Wonthaggi. Ms Kool coordinated the Dinosaur Dreaming dig at Inverloch for 20 years.

Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=24554

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