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Australia’s first herd of dinosaur remains discovered in Outback mine

Fostoria dinosaur Lightning Ridge
Fostoria dinosaur Lightning Ridge

An entire herd of dinosaur fossils has been found for the first time in Australian history at an Outback mine in northwest New South Wales.

A new dinosaur species and the world’s most complete opalised dinosaur has been found at an underground opal mine near Lightning Ridge, 356km north of Dubbo.

A total of four skeletons were excavated, ranging from small juveniles to larger animals that might have been five metres long.

Researchers believe they might have been part of a small herd or family and were stunned by the sheer number of bones found.

“We initially assumed it was a single skeleton but, when I started looking at some of the bones, I realised that we had four scapulae (shoulder blades) all from different sized animals,” University of New England lead researcher Dr Phil Bell said in a public statement.

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Dino named after opal miner

The new dinosaur has been named Fostoria dhimbangunmal (artist impression by James Kuether) in honour of opal miner Robert Foster, who discovered the grey potch opal fossils at the Sheepyard opal field back in 1985.

Fostoria was a two-legged plant-eating iguanodontian dinosaur, closely related to the famous Muttaburrasaurus from central Queensland discovered in the year 1980.

Scientists from the Australian Museum in Sydney helped excavate the bones, which were not studied until Foster’s children Gregory and Joanne finally donated them to the Australian Opal Centre (AOC) in 2015, under the Federal Government’s Cultural Gift Program.

Miner’s discovery commended

AOC praised Foster’s discovery for providing the “most complete opalised dinosaur skeleton in the world”.

“To recover dozens of bones from the one skeleton is a first,” AOC palaeontologist and special projects officer Jenni Brammall said. “Partial skeletons of extinct swimming reptiles have been found at other Australian opal fields but, for opalised dinosaurs, we generally have only a single bone or tooth or in rare instances a few bones.”

The species name, dhimbangunmal (pronounced bim-baan goon-mal), means “sheep yard” in the local Yuwaalaraay and Yuwaalayaay languages, in recognition of the Sheepyard opal field where Foster originally found the bones.

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