3 Jul 2009

Three new dinosaurs discovered in Australia

8:24 pm on 3 July 2009

Fossils of three new species of dinosaurs have been discovered in Australia, including a meat-eater larger than Velociraptor from the Jurassic Park movies, suggesting Australia may have a more complex prehistoric past.

The two plant-eating and one carnivore dinosaurs, the first large dinosaurs unearthed since 1981, were found in Queensland and date back 98 million years to the mid-Cretaceous period.

"It not only presents us with two new amazing long-necked giants of the ancient Australian continent, but also announces our first really big predator," palaeontologist John Long, head of sciences at Museum Victoria, said on Friday.

Palaeontologist Ben Kear at La Trobe University in Melbourne said the discovery will pave the way for new studies on Australian dinosaurs and their environments.

"Australia is one of the great untapped resources in our current understanding of life from the Age of Dinosaurs. The discoveries ... will definitely reinvigorate interest in the hitherto tantalisingly incomplete, but globally significant record from this continent."

Banjo 'bigger' than Velociraptor

The dinosaurs were unearthed during joint Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum and Queensland Museum digs at Winton in outback Queensland.

The meat-eating theropod dinosaur has been called Australovenator (nicknamed Banjo after Australian bush poet Banjo Patterson) and the two plant-eating sauropod dinosaurs are Wintonotitan and Diamantinasaurus.

"The cheetah of his time, Banjo was light and agile. He could run down most prey with ease over open ground," Scott Hocknull, lead author of the dinosaur discovery, said.

"His most distinguishing feature was three large slashing claws on each hand. Unlike some theropods that have small arms (like T Rex), Banjo was different. His arms were a primary weapon. He's Australia's answer to Velociraptor, but many times bigger and more terrifying."

The two herbivore dinosaurs were different kinds of titanosaur, the largest type of dinosaur ever to have lived.

Wintonotitan was a tall animal which may have fitted into a giraffe-like niche, while the stocky Diamantinasaurus was more hippo-like, Mr Hocknull said.

Mr Hocknull said hundreds more fossils from the dig were still to be prepared and there was more material to be excavated.