A dozen new giant sauropod dinosaur specimens in Australia

Looking at hundreds of bones collected over the decades from Winton in central West Queensland, palaeontologists have described 12 new specimens belonging to sauropods.

Palaeontology dig site dinosaur central queensland winton
The “Leo” dig site at Winton, Queensland in 2021. Credit: Supplied, Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History.

The study sheds light on the diversity of these massive ancient planet eaters in Australia.

Sauropods were the largest dinosaurs, known for their long necks and tails. The 12 new sauropod specimens are detailed in a paper published in the open-access journal PeerJ.

The research was led by University College London PhD candidate Samantha Beeston in collaboration with the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History in Queensland.

All the bones were discovered at the Winton Formation in central Queensland. The rocks in the formation date to between 98 and 95 million years ago, during the early Cretaceous period. At this time in Earth’s history, the area, which is now dry, flat sheep grazing country, would have been covered by meandering rivers, swamps, forest pools and coastal estuaries.

Beeston 3D-scanned more than 500 sauropod fossils. The bones could then be compared to identify unique features which separate different species.

Of the 12 new specimens, 2 were identified as Diamantinasaurus matildae, 2 to Savannasaurus elliottorum and 3 to Wintonotitan wattsi. The remaining 5 specimens are too incomplete to be classified beyond being members of the Diamantinasauria group. This is because of the incomplete understanding of the anatomy of Winton’s sauropods.

The study also led to a re-evaluation of the 4 species of sauropod from the Winton Formation.

Palaeontologist sitting on the ground scanning a fossil bone
Samantha Beeston scanning juvenile Diamantinasaurus bones in 2022. Credit: Supplied, Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History.

Those 4 have now been consolidated into 3 species. The other, Australotitan cooperensis, is now believed to possibly be the same as Diamantinasaurus matildae. ‘Cooper,’ the nickname of the original specimen of Australotitan, is the largest dinosaur found in Australia. If it is in fact the same species, it would mean Diamantinasaurus could get much larger (25–30 metres and up to 100 tonnes) than previously thought.

“These dinosaurs help demonstrate the diverse natural history of Australia during the Cretaceous Period and will become important exhibits at the new Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History,” says the museum’s executive chairman David Elliot.

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