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100 Million-Year-Old Skeleton Holds Secrets to Prehistoric Research

People lying around a giant skeleton of a marine reptile called plesiosaur discovered in Australia, believed to be one hundred million years old
100 Million-Year-Old Skeleton Holds Secrets to Prehistoric Research Credit: Queensland Museum

A giant skeleton of a marine reptile discovered in Australia, believed to be one hundred million years old, seems to hold secrets into prehistoric life.

The skeleton was unearthed by a group of three amateur fossil hunters while on a cattle station in Australia‘s western Queensland outback in August.

The trio included amateur paleontologists, known as the “Rock Chicks”—Cassandra Prince, her sister Cynthia, and fellow fossil sleuth Sally, only known by her first name.

According to researchers, the six-meter (nineteen feet) tall juvenile, long-necked plesiosaur, also known as an elasmosaur, holds a great deal of data that may reveal important clues for prehistoric studies.

On Wednesday, Espen Knutsen, senior curator of paleontology at the Queensland Museum, said in a statement, “We have never found a body and a head together and this could hold the key to future research in this field.”

“It could give paleontologists greater insight into the origins, evolution and ecology of the cretaceous period in the region,” Knutsen added.

Commenting on the unique nature of the find, he said, “Because these plesiosaurs were two-thirds neck, often the head would be separated from the body after death, which makes it very hard to find a fossil preserving both together.”

Discovery of the skeleton a rare find

Elasmosaurs grew to be between eight and ten meters long and lived in the Eromanga Sea, which covered large parts of inland Australia and had waters that were fifty meters deep about 150 million years ago.

When an elasmosaur died, its decomposing body would swell with gas that made it rise to the water’s surface. Often, the head would break off when predators found the carcass—making full-body discoveries rare, Knutsen told CNN.

Therefore, he added that because the latest find was a young specimen, it would reveal more information on how the body shape of elasmosaurs changed from youth to adulthood.

“We’re going to look at the chemistry of its teeth and that can tell us something about its ecology in terms of habitat as well, whether it was migrating throughout his life, or whether it was sort of staying in the same habitat, and also [get insight] into its diet,” he said.

Although this prehistoric discovery dates back to around the same time as dinosaurs, it is not classified as such.

Ancient marine reptiles, such as plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs, evolved from ancestors who lived on land and therefore didn’t have gills. This meant they occasionally had to surface for air.

Therefore, it remains unknown how long they could stay underwater before finally surfacing on land.

Skull form skeleton of the 100 million-year-old plesiosaur
The skull form skeleton Credit: Queensland Museum

Other prehistoric skeleton discoveries in Australia

Although the one hundred million-year-old skeleton is the latest significant prehistoric discovery to have been made in Australia in recent years, there have also been other finds.

A 2007 discovery of a fossilized skeleton in Queensland was confirmed by scientists in June 2021. It was of the country’s largest dinosaur, nicknamed “Cooper,” which stood about two stories tall and was as long as a basketball court.

Two months later, scientists discovered that there once was a flying “dragon” species that soared over Australia 105 million years ago. The experts described it as a “fearsome beast” that snacked on juvenile dinosaurs.

However, Knutsen also compared the recent prehistoric skeleton discovery to that of the Rosetta Stone—the Ancient Egyptian block of granite rediscovered in 1799 that helped experts to decode hieroglyphics.

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