FOSSILISED feathers found from dinosaurs at Koonwarra are among the most remarkably preserved in the world and could reveal crucial new information about Australia’s prehistoric past.
A scientist who worked on the feathers of birds and dinosaurs from a renowned dig site in China has remarked the preservation of the Koonwarra feathers was better than those found in China.
The news comes as a 10 year old girl visiting Inverloch found a piece of skull possibly belonging to a Qantassaurus last Monday, April 3.
She made the discovery at The Caves beach – a fossil hotspot – during a dinosaur field trip run by Bunurong Coast Education’s Mike Cleeland.
“It’s the first time a visiting school age person has discovered a skull fragment,” he said.
Digs have been held at Koonwarra since roadworks in 1961 uncovered a rich fossil bed, the site of a former freshwater lake, on the side of the South Gippsland Highway near the Minns Road intersection.
The dinosaurs at Koonwarra could have been more widespread throughout the region and therefore other areas could be sources of fossils.
The scientist, Dr Martin Kundrat, an associate professor at Slovakia’s Comenius University, was part of a study of feathers from the Jehol Biota dig site in China’s Liaoning Province. The Jehol Biota is world-renowned for its abundance of feathered dinosaurs.
Together with another scientist, Johan Lindgren of Sweden’s University of Upsalla, Dr Kundrat is now applying a range of modern imaging techniques to extract much information about the Koonwarra feathers that was unavailable to earlier workers.
Together they will submit a paper to a prominent scientific journal, said Dr Tom Rich, senior curator of vertebrate palaeontology and palaeobotany at Museum Victoria.
“What has been found at Koonwarra is a single feather that is considered by Martin Kundrat to be a non-avian dinosaur – that is a dinosaur in the conventional understanding of the term,” Dr Rich said.
“Some of the other eight feathers from Koonwarra are clearly that of birds. But then there are others that could be either birds or dinosaurs.
“There are dinosaurs from elsewhere in Australia and Victoria in particular that probably also had feathers but none have been found with feathers.
“An isolated limb bone or tooth is not likely to be associated with feathers.”
Dinosaurs known from the South Gippsland coast that quite likely also occurred near the Koonwarra lake are Qantassaurus, Serendipaceratops and Australovenator.
Once the scientists’ paper is published, grant applications for the $800,000 needed to carry out another excavation at Koonwarra will be written and submitted for funding.
“Because of the extraordinary preservation of the Koonwarra feathers, the recovery of more such fossils will be the primary rationale for the excavation,” Dr Rich said.
“But that is not all. The Koonwarra deposit was formed in the bottom of an ephemeral polar lake that persisted for 5000 to10,000 years.
“Documenting where the fossils come from centimetre by centimetre through the nine metre thickness of that lake deposit will enable a reconstruction of its history.”
Dr Rich said that had never been done anywhere for a polar lake that existed at the same time as dinosaurs.
“What caused the lake to be formed in the first place on the broad flood plain that existed between Australia and Antarctica as the two continents were in the initial stages of separation?” he said.
“Did the plants remain the same or did they change through time?
“What was the average temperature in that polar location and did it remain the same or significantly change? In other words, how stable was the environment?
“What was the character of the water filling the lake and was that a constant or systematically changing feature? Where did the sediment filling the lake come from?”
The Koonwarra dig site is about 30 million years old and the new dig will try to refine that age estimate.
“Owing to the weather pattern in South Gippsland, the two month dig is planned for a March to April. Because of the time needed to set up the excavation, it must be known by July 1 of the previous year that funding will be available,” Dr Rich said.
“Given the calendars of potential funding agencies, in light of that necessary lead time, the earliest the excavation will occur will be in 2019. More likely it will be 2020.
“If some private source not constrained by being part of a governmental funding body could be found, that could provide the funds at short notice and the dig could go ahead in 2018.”
- Bunurong Coast Education runs dinosaur discovery, rockpool ramble, astronomy and other activities over the school holidays. See sgcs.org.au and follow links to Holiday Bookings.
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