Palaeontologists head to mine site to hunt fossils

Queensland Museum paelaeontologists are heading out to a BHP coal mine to uncover fossils.

They are reportedly headed to the South Walker Creek mine, operated by BHP Billiton Mitsui Coal mine, west of Nebo, according to the Daily Mercury.

The site is believed to be the former territory of Australian megafauna – massive creatures that stalked the earth such as sheep sized echidnas, a two metre tall wombat and a seven metre goanna.

Since the operation initially came across a fossiled bone, which was later found out to be a Pallimnarchus, an extinct relative of the crocodile, the miner has partnered with the museum to excavate the site.

It has since uncovered never before seen fossils.

Head of the Queensland Museum Network,Suzanne Miller, stated that "the fossils recovered from South Walker Creek reveal fascinating new insights into our ancient past".

"The ability to systematically excavate the site year to year means we can collate some conclusive baseline data on megafauna including their diet and their habits."

One of the scientists who first identified the fossils in the initial discovery is returning to the site for a third time.

It is wonderful to be at South Walker Creek again, continuing the work that has resulted from the earlier, initial fossil discovery here," Dr Scott Hocknull said.

"This year we have been usingoptically stimulated luminesce (OSL) dating techniques on some of the South Walker Creek fossils to help better understand – and answer the surrounding questions – of how megafauna became extinct."

Fellow Queensland miner Xstrata has also worked closely with scientists to uncover new fossils.

In 2011 its Mt Isa operation was awarded the Riversleigh Society Medal for its support of fossil research.

It was presented the award for its financial support of the work carried out by University of New South Wales professor Mike Archer, who uncovered nearly 80% of a diprotodon skeleton, which is the largest marsupial to ever exist.

The Riversleigh Medal is given for‘excellence in promoting understanding of Australian Prehistory’, and has previously been awarded to the likes of David Attenborough.

It was the first time an organisation has won the award.

University of NSW paleontologist Henk Godthelp said without Xstrata’s support, the fossils in Queensland’s North West may never be found.

"Government funding is dwindling and if groups like Xstrata didn't pitch in there would be no funding to conduct fossil digs and do further research," Godthelp said.

"Their funding is crucial to uncovering the past and discovering new species like the Diprotodon."

Since 2008, Xstrata contributed approximately $360 000 to the university’s research through its Community Partnership Program.

Mining machinery manufacturer Atlas Copco has also played a major part in dinosaur discovery.

In the 1980s it had a dinosaur, Atlascopcosaurus, named after the company after Atlas provided the equipment for the dig.

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