22 December 2008

A new exhibit featuring more fossils of the world’s first modern crocodilian, opened this week in Isisford, central-western Queensland.

University of Queensland palaeontologist Dr Steve Salisbury, who with his team have been spearheading the research in Isisford since 2001, said the exhibit is an extension of the existing display that was first unveiled in 2006, at the Outer Barcoo Interpretation Centre.

He said apart from more fossils, the new display featured information about the palaeontological discoveries that have been taking place in Isisford, and the many steps involved in piecing together what this part of central-western Queensland looked like during the latter part of the Age of Dinosaurs.

“Our goal with this display was to share with the public the processes behind the science of palaeontology,” Dr Salisbury said.

“Everything from how we find fossils in the field, gradually expose the bones in the lab, and then interpret their scientific significance is shown in the new display.”

He said the centrepiece of the new display is the complete skull of Isisfordia duncani.

The initial skeleton of Isisfordia that was found by grazier Mr Ian Duncan in 1995 lacked most of the head, so for many years the ancestor of all of today’s crocodilians didn't have a face.

But that all changed during the 2005 UQ Isisford Expedition, when the new skull was found by one of Dr Salisbury’s team, Matt Herne, whose artwork features prominently in the new exhibit.

“When we found this skull it was entombed in a basketball-sized nodule of sandstone,” Dr Salisbury said.

“The only part that was visible was a cross-section through the back of the skull. It took a lot of imagination to recognise it as belonging to a crocodilian.”

The delicate job of preparing the skull was given to Dr Salisbury's research assistant Kerry Geddes, who spent an estimated 1200 hours drilling away the rock that had preserved the fossil.

“The long, flat, platypus-like snout made the fossil extremely fragile, but the wait was worth it,” Dr Salisbury said.

“The end result is spectacular as it’s easily the most complete and best-preserved fossil crocodilian skull ever discovered in Australia. It’s hard to believe that the animal to which it belonged has been dead for almost 100 million years.”

The new display was put together by the SE Queensland-based team of Va-Moose Creative (3D design), See-Saw (graphic design and illustration) and Indigo C (communication). Longreach Regional Council and the former Isisford Shire Council provided funding, working closely with the team through all of the design phases.

Dr Salisbury’s research is funded in part by the Australian Research Council, and is being conducted in collaboration with Carnegie Museum of Natural History and Longreach Regional Council.

For further information about the project, visit www.uq.edu.au/dinosaurs

Media: Dr Steve Salisbury – currently in the United States - (+1 412 622 1991, email s.salisbury@uq.edu.au), Andrew Dunne at UQ Communications (07 3365 2802 or 0433 364 181), or the Outer Barcoo Interpretation Centre (07 4658 8411).