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General Fossil Information

Palaeontology research and fossil finding in Australia have come a long way since the first dinosaur bone was discovered in the Bass Coast of Victoria in 1903.

Australia has a rich history of amazing fossil discoveries.  In this section, we will focus primarily on Victoria.

One of these discoveries, is the bones of Megaraptorans, huge carnivorous dinosaurs from the Cretaceous also known as the Age of Dinosaurs. These predators have also been found in Argentina, confirming that Australia and South America must have been joined during the time of the dinosaurs, possibly via Antarctica.

Dinosaur bones in southern Victoria have been found along the Bass Coast in rocks aged about 126 million years, and on the Otway Coast at 106 million years. The discovery of footprints in some places also adds to our understanding of the dinosaurs of southern Victoria.

There are now seven species of dinosaurs known from Victoria. They lived at a time when the scenic southern coastline we see today around Inverloch and Cape Otway was very different, it was a cool temperate forest in a rift valley that was opening up between Australia and Antarctica.

Another startling discovery was the leg bone of a dinosaur related to Tyrannosaurus. It was found at the undergound dig at Dinosaur Cove, near Cape Otway in Victoria. The bone was originally thought to be from an Ornithomimid and was named Timimus, but was later shown to be from one of the Tyrannosaurids. This was the first time anything so closely related to the iconic T-rex had been found in Australia!

Timimus is a relatively small dinosaur, being some 2.5 metres from nose to tail. This is much smaller than it’s better known cousin Tyrannosaurus which is over 12 metres long and can weigh many tonnes.

In total there have been 23 different species of dinosaurs discovered in Australia to date. New discoveries in recent years have rapidly increased our knowledge of Australian dinosaur diversity. All major groups of dinosaurs are represented in Australia including the huge sauropods in Queensland, savage and fast carnivorous theropods (meat-eaters), quick agile ornithopods (bird-feeted), plus herbivorous harmored ankylosaurs, cerotopsians and giant amphibians like the Koolasucus from Victoria. Also in the acient ocean of the Eromanga Sea, which is now dry central Queensland there were huge marine reptiles, the plesiosaurs with long necks and the pliosaurs with short necks, and the very scary looking mosausar. Pterosaurs, the flying reptiles of the Mesozoic are also from Australia fossils, with the latest Ferrodraco Lentoni found in Central Queensland recently. The island of Tasmania is the only state where dinosaurs have not yet been found.

Australia’s first genuine dinosaur bone was discovered at Eagle’s Nest, near Inverloch on 7th May 1903 by the Scottish geologist W. H. Ferguson. It was a claw, from a medium sized carnivorous dinosaur. For many years nothing more was found, until in 1978 when Tim Flannery, then a Science student at Monash University, decided to revisit the site. 

In company with his cousin John Long and geologist Rob Glenie, they started finding more bones in the same area. Their discovery led to a systematic search of the Bass Coast, (east of Melbourne) during which they found over 30 fossil bones and discovered important new sites including The Arch at Kilcunda and The Punchbowl, near San Remo. 

Further prospecting by Lesley Kool, Nick Van Klaveren and Mike Cleeland particularly during the 1990's, resulted in the discovery and excavation of several more sites including the celebrated Dinosaur Dreaming site at Inverloch, and has led to the total number of fossil bones from the Bass Coast exceeding 20,000. 

Sauropods, the classic “longneck” dinosaurs similar to Brontosaurus, have been discovered in Queensland, but never in Victoria. This could be because Victoria at that time was so far south, within the Antarctic circle. By the time the blood gets all the way to the extremities of the head and tail of a cold blooded sauropod, it is at risk of actually freezing, and scientists suspect this could explain why these creatures have never been found in Victoria.

The Victorian fossils are known as “Polar Dinosaurs” because they lived at a time when their habitat was relatively close to the South Pole.  The South Pole at the time of the dinosaurs was not as it is now, however.  It was covered with lush, green trees, and relatively warm, by today's standards.

In addition to the dinosaurs, marine reptiles including plesiosaurs and pliosaurs are known from the Victorian Cretaceous, as well as flying reptiles such as pterosaurs. Several of these species are yet to be formally described by palaeontologists.

If you haven't already, check out our sections on finding, extracting, and preparing fossils.

Bass Coast, Victoria

After the 1903 discovery, not much happened, until 1978, when Tim Flannery, then a Science student at Monash, decided to revisit the site with his cousin John Long and they started finding more bones in the same area. 

They found over 30 fossil bones, and discovered important new sites including The Arch at Kilcunda and The Punchbowl near San Remo. 

During the 1980’s Lesley Kool and Mike Cleeland spent days on end going over the rocky shores of the Bass Coast and made significant new discoveries, of bones near Inverloch, Kilcunda, San Remo and the Powlett River. 

Their meticulous work led to the discovery of the rich fossil layer at The Caves, and digging since then during the summer season has resulted in the discovery of over 15000 bones!

Most of the dinosaur bones discovered are from small plant eating dinosaurs such as Qantassaurus and Galleonosarurs.

A small number of bones and teeth from carnivorous theropods have also been found, mostly from small raptors but also some larger bones from Megaraptorids. Other animals known from this area include Serendiceratops, the giant Koolasucus (salamander like creature), reptiles like the :Pterosaurus and Plesiosaurus and other animals such as turtles, birds and small mammals.

There fossils date from approximately 126 million years ago, when Australia was still attached to Antartica. Southern Victoria at that time was part of a rift valley with large meandering rivers, quiet lakes and dense forests. The sea did not reach this area until recently.  

Australia's First Dinosaur Feather

The Koonwarra Fossil Site

Roadworks on the South Gippsland Highway during the 1960s exposed a layer of mudstone from a prehistoric lakebed containing a wide array of fossils from the early Cretaceous, about 120 million years ago. Many of the fossils were of fish, typically ranging in size from 10 – 30 cm. Excavations conducted by Museums Victoria since the initial discovery have added greatly to our knowledge of the diversity of fauna from this site. In addition to the several species of fish, abundant plant fossils have been found at the site, mostly of ancient ferns but one intriguing specimen has been identified as the world’s oldest fossil flower.

Numerous types of arthropods  have been identified from Koonwarra, including species related to modern mayflies, damselfies and fleas. There has even been a horseshoe crab discovered.

No dinosaur bones have yet been found at Koonwarra, but it’s almost certain that they were there, because their fossils have been found at nearby Inverloch. But several fossil feathers have been collected from the excavation and although most of them are from early Cretaceous birds, one is definitely a dinosaur feather, Australia’s first!

Winter kill has been suggested as a reason to explain the large numbers of fossils at this site. At the time these animals were alive Australia was still connected to Antarctica, as part of the large southern landmass of Gondwana. Although the Antarctic at that time was not covered with thick ice sheets as it is today, there may have been seasonal ice forming in winter causing the lake at Koonwarra to be frozen over. This would have prevented oxygen entering the water and resulted in the death of the fish and other fauna in the water.

Scientists are still hopeful of discovering dinosaurs at the Koonwarra site. In China there is a similar fossil layer at Jehol, which is composed of almost identical sediments, contains similarly abundant fossils of animals and plants, and has also revealed twelve skeletons of various vertebrates entombed in the mudstone. So it’s quite possible that a Qantassaurus or one of the other Gippsland dinosaurs has ended its days there at Koonwarra, and its preserved skeleton awaits discovery there in the early Cretaceous mudstones.

Dinosaur Cove, The Otways

Following the discovery of several dinosaur bones east of Melbourne along the Bass Coast in the late 1970’s, the team of palaeontologists then turned their attention west, to the Otways.

Geological mapping showed that the Otway Coast from Eastern View, through Lorne to Apollo Bay, and around Cape Otway towards Princetown, had the same rock as the Bass Coast, so they were hopeful of new discoveries. 

Initially the results were disappointing for Tom and Pat Rich, Tim Flannery, Mike Archer and Cindy Hann. Very few bones were found until they reached Marengo, near Apollo Bay, when again they started to pick up indications of Cretaceous dinosaurs including the discovery of Atlascopcosaurus at Point Lewis. 

Their luck changed when they rounded Cape Otway and reached a remote, then unnamed, cove near Rotten Point. It was here that Mike Archer and Tim Flannery encountered a layer at the base of a steep cliff with a small number of bones exposed. This initially modest beginning eventually led to the extraction of over 9000 bones, and the discovery of Timimus and Leaellynasaura in the tunnels of what is now officially named Dinosaur Cove. 

The rocks along the Otway coast are about 106 million years old and were laid down when Australia was in the early stages of separation from Antarctica, during the breakup of Gondwana. 

Like the Bass Coast, the Otway sites are rich in fossil turtle and fish bones, together with occasional bones from plesiosaurs, ankylosaurs and primitive mammals. Footprints of some of these prehistoric creatures have also been found preserved in these rocks.

Beaumaris, Victoria

While you will not find dinosaur fossils here, you will be able to find fossils you can take home that will keep the kids happy, and if you are lucky, some that will keep the big kids happy.  The fossils here are approximately five milliion years old.  Sea urchins are abundant, and are brought in or uncovered every day by the tides.  You can go one day, and not find much, and go back to the same spot the next day and find more than you can carry.  You may also find fossilised whale bone, coral and even crabs.  You can also find shark teeth!  Some megalodon teeth have been found here, but mostly you will find carchardon histalis, which is an ancestor of the Great White shark.  And yes, you can keep what you find.  No digging or hacking way at the cliffs though.

Dinosaur Dreaming

The Dinosaur Dreaming site is located at Inverloch, on the southeast coast of Victoria.  The site was originally discovered in 1992 by a party of prospectors working with Museums Victoria.

The first dig here was in 1995 and continued annual digging here has resulted in the collection of many thousands of bones.

Many of the bones are from ancient fish and turtles, but at least two species of dinosaurs have been discovered and up to five species of enigmatic mammals, only the size of a mouse!

Inverloch is an unusual place to find fossils because when the dinosaurs were alive, Australia was still in the early stages of splitting away from Antarctica. Dinosaurs are not usually found this far away from the equator!

The Dig

The process of digging for dinosaurs involves assembling a team of around 20 people including professional palaeontologists and passionate volunteers. The digging operation is tide dependent, so the crew has to be ready to start when the tide is low enough to expose the fossil layer. Considerable amounts of sand washed in by the overnight tide may have to be removed before the actual digging can begin.

Then the “Hole Crew” start breaking out large blocks of rock from the fossil layer, and passing them up to the “Chain Gang” to break them up into smaller pieces to expose the fossils hidden within.

The best finds are the rare jawbones; the lower jawbone is sometimes preserved in a fossil because it’s the hardest bone in the body. It enables palaeontologists to determine exactly which species of animal it belongs to.

The Inverloch Site

The dig site at Flat Rocks is the richest site known in the Victorian Cretaceous. Two dinosaurs new to science, Qantassaurus and Galleonosaurus have been discovered here. These were both wallaby – sized Ornithopod dinosaurs, ie herbivorous animals with three toed feet similar to birds.

Other types of dinosaurs whose remains have been found at this site include small theropods, the armoured ankylosaurs, and other prehistoric reptiles such as plesiosaurs and pterosaurs.

The Palaeo Environment

125 million years ago the site was within a rift valley that was opening up between Australia and Antarctica as the continents of Gondwana began to separate. Rivers flowed through the area, and the bones of dead dinosaurs and other animals were washed into these rivers and buried in the accumulating sediments, which later turned to the rock we see exposed today.

Unfortunately this process led to nearly all of the skeletons being broken apart as they were tumbled and jumbled downstream, and as a result today we usually find their fossils preserved only as isolated teeth and bones.


Fossil poo, called 'coprolite', can give us a lot of information about the animal's diet and ususally it is studied under the microscope. It is possible to see fish scales or bit of plants according to the diet of the animal. These  photos are from the Etches Collection in England. The hardest is to  identify who the poo belonged to!

Tripod And Jacketing For Big Bones

Making A Replica

Before delicate bones are removed from the site, they need to be protected and encased in field jackets made from burlap and plaster to protect them during transport.

underneath Macarena, Lawrence, Augustin, Shoan, Marcus, Simona and other volunteers traying to safely move a jacket using the tripod. Also the site had to be mapped, measuring and recording the positions and orientations of each fossils.

Once the plaster field jackets hardened, it can be flipped over (above, left), then removed excess matrix from the now upside-down jackets (right) in order to reduce their weight.  Reducing weight is very important when field jackets are to be carried by hand from the site!

The final step in field jacket construction is to cover the bottoms of the flipped jackets with plaster.  For larger jackets, we incorporate wooden 2x4s into the plaster, both to add rigidity to the jackets and to ease carrying.  Then, each of the field jackets needs to be lifted by a tripod and carried off the hill and back to the vehicles on a slide of corrugated aluminium.

Jackets are sometimes opened years later so it is very important to do a good job, if not the bone can be damaged or have mould and deteriorate very quickly.

Making a replica of a dinosaur skeleton is important for many reasons. The first of these is transport; genuine dinosaur bones are as heavy as solid rock and the huge sauropod bones from places like Queensland and Argentina are difficult to move around travelling exhibitions.

So in a museum exhibition many of the dinosaurs on display are copies made in light resin, which can be easily assembled and dismantled.

Moulds of dinosaur bones are also important because they allow local palaeontologists to collaborate with international colleagues. So a plastic or plaster cast of a specimen can be sent to an expert overseas without risking damage to the original material, which could be rare, fragile or heavy.

Scientists are constantly bringing in new technology to help with making or interpreting new discoveries, and the science of Palaeontology is no exception. 

Digital scanning and 3D printing is one good example of this. With this modern technology, a dinosaur bone found here in Australia can be scanned in 3D, then that image can be sent to other palaeontologists around the world. 

They can then examine the image onscreen or even make a copy of it using a 3D printer. This allows these scientists to have international collaboration on identifying the bone quickly in a way that would previously have taken weeks or months!

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