Victorian tyrannosauroid found

26 March, 2010

Tom Rich with tyrannosauroid pubis
Dr Tom H. Rich with the newly-identified tyrannosauroid pubis in front of the much larger tyrannosauroid Tarbosaurus at Melbourne Museum.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria

A fossil uncovered at Dinosaur Cove in 1989 by local researchers Tom Rich and Pat Vickers-Rich is the first evidence of tyrannosauroid dinosaurs in the southern hemisphere.

This new discovery, published today in the prestigious journal Science, is profoundly significant to our understanding of the ecology and evolution of this group of dinosaurs. Until now, tyrannosauroids – including the most infamous member of this group, Tyrannosaurus rex – had only been found on northern continents. T. rex lived about 70 million years ago during the late Cretaceous however this southern tyrannosauroid is about 115 million years old and is much smaller.

The coast of Victoria has been a source for palaeontological treasures since 1903, when geologist William Hamilton Ferguson discovered the first Australian dinosaur fossil near Inverloch. Since then, fossilised remains of a variety of carnivorous and plant-eating dinosaurs, lungfish and early mammals have been found along our coastline. Between 1984 and 1994, a team of palaeontologists and volunteers led by MV’s Senior Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology, Tom Rich, and Pat Vickers-Rich of Monash University, excavated fossils from a place in the Otways known as Dinosaur Cove. However it wasn’t until October 2009 that one of these fossils was identified as a tyrannosauroid by Dr Roger Benson of the University of Cambridge and Paul M. Barrett from the London History Museum.

While the specimen is just one bone, and an incomplete one at that, it is a pubis that bears characteristics found in tyrannosauroids only, including an expanded area known as the ‘pubic boot’.

The exploration of Dinosaur Cove was a decade-long labour of love for Tom Rich and Pat Vickers-Rich. This part of the world was once joined to Antarctica and the dinosaurs that lived here survived in a cold climate that was dark for long periods of the year. Excavating deposits deep in the cliffs required their team to tunnel into rock with drills, sledgehammers and explosives, but the fossils retrieved from their efforts are invaluable to our knowledge of life in Victoria during the Cretaceous.

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