A newly found 100 million-year-old fossil sheds light on prehistory

'It's the most significant prehistoric discovery to have been recently made in Australia.'
Nergis Firtina
The skull of the 100 million-year-old plesiosaur found in Queensland, Australia.
The skull of the 100 million-year-old plesiosaur found in Queensland, Australia.

Queensland Museum Network/Youtube 

Queensland Museum's research team made a significant discovery on prehistory a couple of months ago by finding a 100 million-year-old plesiosaur skeleton with its body and a head together. Now, researchers are putting a spotlight on the future of prehistoric studies.

As reported by CNN, three amateur fossil hunters discovered the remains of a 19-foot (6-meter) tall juvenile long-necked plesiosaur, commonly known as an elasmosaur, in August on a cattle station in the western Queensland outback.

Senior curator of paleontology at the Queensland Museum Espen Knutsen resembled the discovery to that of finding the Rosetta Stone. If you're not familiar with what Rosetta Stone is, well it's the 1799 groundbreaking discovery of religious texts that holds the key to understanding Egyptian hieroglyphs. In this case, the newly found, well-preserved elasmosaur will teach us more about prehistory.

“We have never found a body and a head together, and this could hold the key to future research in this field,” Knutsen said. He also added that it might provide paleontologists with more information about the region's Cretaceous period's origins, evolution, and ecology.

“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,” Knutsen explained.

The video about the discovery was shared by Queensland Museum Network.

Full bodies are hard to find

Knutsen suggests these fossils are hard to find in one piece because of their physical properties. “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,” he said.

When an elasmosaur died, its rotting body would expand with gas and rise to the water's surface. Additionally, the head would frequently break off when predators scavenged the cadaver, making full-body discoveries uncommon, as per CNN. It's also said that the most recent discovery, a young specimen, will clarify how the body structure of plesiosaurs altered from youth to adulthood.

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“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 its life, or whether it was sort of staying in the same habitat, and also into its diet,” Knutsen explained.

It's the most significant prehistoric discovery to have been recently made in Australia.

What is Elasmosaurus in brief?

Plesiosaurs belonging to the genus Elasmosaurus lived around 80.5 million years ago, during the Campanian stage of the Late Cretaceous period. U.S. paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope received the first specimen when it was found in 1867 close to Fort Wallace in Kansas and gave it the name E. platyurus in 1868. The particular name means "flat-tailed," while the generic name means "thin-plate reptile."

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