New Australian fossil is ‘Rosetta Stone’: researchers

Paleontologists unearthed a first of its kind fossil from 100 million years ago, the Queensland Museum said.
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Paleontologists unearthed a first fossil of this species 100 million years ago, the Queensland Museum said.

Paleontologists unearthed a first fossil of this species 100 million years ago, the Queensland Museum said.

Screenshot from the Queensland Museum Network YouTube video.

An extremely rare discovery in Australia could hold the key to learning more about the sea monsters that roamed the earth hundreds of millions of years ago.

Paleontologists unearthed the first confirmed head and body of a 100 million year old prehistoric sea reptile known as an elasmosaur, the Queensland Museum said in a Dec. 6 news release.

According to researchers, the north-eastern region of Australia, now Queensland, was a shallow sea during the Cretaceous period. For this reason, fossils and remains of marine animals are often found in the region.

Elasmosaurs belonged to a group of long-necked reptiles called plesiosaurs, paleontologists said. Hundreds of millions of years ago, these creatures coexisted with dinosaurs.

Although fossil finds are common in Queensland, the find marks the first time the head and body of an elasmosaur have been found together. Due to the specimen’s long neck, the heads and bodies usually separate, according to the press release.

A trio of Amateur Paleontologists, known as the “Rock Chicks,” originally unearthed the massive fossil, CNN reported. Cynthia Prince, her sister, and a friend made the discovery in August at a cattle station in western Queensland.

The elasmosaur was 19 feet tall, CNN reported.

Now a group of researchers from the Queensland Museum Network have collected the creature and transported it to the Museum of Tropical Queensland for further study.

“Rosetta Stone of Marine Palaeontology”

Experts hailed the discovery as a breakthrough that could be crucial in learning more about the prehistoric world.

The Queensland Museum said the find was “described as the Rosetta Stone of marine paleontology” in a Dec. 6 Facebook post.

Espen Knutser, senior scientist and curator of paleontology at the Queensland Museum Network – and who is leading the research group to collect the fossils – said the discovery will allow experts to study new aspects of the time period.

“That will tell us a lot about the taxonomy the biodiversity‘ he said in a video. “It will also teach us about the ecology of these things… what kind of food did this animal feed on and how did it feed itself.”

plesiosaur grew up to 43 feet with small triangular heads and long necks that could encompass up to half their body, according to National Geographic.

The remains are now undergoing multiple analytical methods to learn more, the museum said, noting it “may hold the key to deciphering the diversity and evolution of marine reptiles in Cretaceous Australia.”

Moira Ritter reports real-time news for McClatchy. She is a graduate of Georgetown University, where she studied administration, journalism and German. She previously reported for CNN Business.

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