Digging up the dirt on SA palaeontology

Can you pick the difference between a thylacine’s thigh bone and flightless bird’s fibula?

Members of the public will get the chance to touch and feel the crusty, fossilised remains of thylacines, marsupial lions, short-faced kangaroos, bandicoots and giant flightless birds that are between six million and 30 thousand years old.

Flinders University opens the doors to its prized palaeontology lab during this year’s Palaeontology Week, March 21-29.

For Dr Gavin Prideaux [pictured], Australian Research Fellow in Flinders School of Biological Sciences, it is a chance to join the SA Museum in introducing people to the fascinating world of palaeontology and to demonstrate his team at work.

“South Australia is probably the best state for palaeontology in Australia,” Dr Prideaux said.

“The evidence of some of the earliest forms of life on Earth come from 600 million year old fossils found in the Flinders Ranges and are famous the world over,” he said.

“On Kangaroo Island, there are deposits of fossils that are around 500 million years old, and there are also the renowned opalised marine reptiles from the time of the dinosaurs found around Coober Pedy.

Flinders University has a long association with SA palaeontology. Associate Professor Rod Wells was part of a caving party that discovered the Victoria Fossil Cave at Naracoorte, the most important megafauna deposit in Australia. It was given World Heritage listing in 1994.

“Flinders is one of very few universities in Australia in which field work – literally searching and digging up fossils – is still a major part of the curriculum,” Dr Prideaux said.

The Open Lab will have activities to interest people of all ages. Special guest, Dr John Scanlon, a palaeontologist at the World Heritage Fossil Site at Riversleigh, Queensland, will talk about fossil snakes and other reptiles.

High school students will hear from current palaeontology students and researchers. And children can involved in a variety of hands-on activities, including helping researchers sort fossils.

Everyone, though, will be able to observe Flinders palaeontologists at work.

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