Dinosaur Dreaming – The Inverloch Fossil site

The Flat Rocks fossil site at Inverloch is located approximately 150 km south-east of Melbourne, on the south coast of Victoria. The area has special significance to Australia’s fossil history as the discovery of Australia’s first dinosaur bone, the Cape Paterson Claw, was found at a nearby site in 1903 by William Ferguson. The currently active site was discovered in 1991 when a group of researchers from Monash University and Museum Victoria were prospecting that part of the coastline for suitable locations for potential fossil dig sites.

The Cape Paterson claw

The Cape Paterson claw, found by William Ferguson in 1903 at Eagle’s Nest, was Australia’s first dinosaur bone.
Source: Museum Victoria.

The first formal dig at Inverloch was in 1992 when researchers spent two weeks testing the productivity of the site. In this time more than 300 fossil bones buried below the surface of the shore platform were recovered. The site proved so productive that organised annual summer digs called ‘Dinosaur Dreaming’ commenced in 1994 and have collected an average of 700 fossil bones and teeth from each field season. The fossil layer at the Flat Rocks site is still producing as many fossil bones and teeth as when digging first started. The Dinosaur Dreaming dig will continue for as long as financial support continues to fund the dig.

How old are the fossils?

The sedimentary rocks along the Strzelecki coastline were laid down approximately 120 to 115 million years ago in the Early Cretaceous period. The rocks have been dated using both Fission Track Dating (based on radioactive content) and Palynology (based on the fossil pollen in the rock). Both methods of dating correlate the age of the rocks to about 120 million years plus or minus five million years.

The Fossils of Flat Rocks

The fossil bones of many different animals have been found at the Flat Rocks site. There is evidence of at least five different types of dinosaur as well as the fossil bones of other reptiles, birds, mammals and fish. The fossil bones found at the site are the remains of animals that lived in an ancient river and the surrounding valley. The bones were washed into the river during flooding events and concentrated in the river bed.

The Dinosaur Dreaming field dig at Inverloch

The Dinosaur Dreaming field dig at Inverloch.
Photographer/Source: Lesley Kool

Dinosaurs and other reptiles

The most commonly found dinosaur at Flat Rocks is a small plant eater belonging to the Hypsilophodont family. This dinosaur was the size of a small wallaby and ran on its hind legs. Qantassaurus intrepidus is the latest hypsilophodontid dinosaur to be named from the site, however there are at least two other members of the hypsilophodontidae family represented. Evidence of tiny dinosaur bones at the site suggests that the area may have been a nesting ground for part of the year. There is also evidence of other dinosaurs including ankylosaurs and theropod dinosaurs at Flat Rocks and surrounding areas.

Flying reptiles (pterosaurs) are sometimes mistakenly called dinosaurs, but belong to a different group of reptiles. A number of unusual teeth found at the Flat Rocks site have been assigned to pterosaurs, as well as some limb bones. The turtles of Flat Rocks appear to have been rather primitive. They had short necks, unlike most of Australia’s modern turtles. A number of isolated teeth have been identified as belonging to small fresh-water plesiosaurs.

Mammals

In 1997, a fossil jaw only 17mm long with four teeth was found. The jaw belonged to an insectivorous mammal no bigger than a mouse and was named Ausktribosphenous nyktos. The teeth resembled those of a placental mammal. However, because all previous fossil evidence supported the idea that marsupials arrived in Australia long before placental mammals, the description of this discovery as a placental mammal was not accepted by many researchers. There has been much debate since the discovery of this jaw, and there is still no agreement as to which group of mammals it belongs to.

Since 1997 a further 36 mammal jaws have been found at the site, some of which belong to a new group of monotremes (Teinolophos trusleri) and represent the world’s oldest and smallest monotremes. In 2004 a single tooth in a jaw fragment was found that may represent evidence in Australia of a group of extinct mammals called Multituberculates.

Other animals

The fossilised remains of fish are very common at the Flat Rocks site. Before 1997 the only evidence of Early Cretaceous birds in Victoria came from Koonwarra, 40 km north of the Flat Rocks site. In 1997 the first definitive bird bone was found at Flat Rocks. A number of other possible bird bones have since turned up at the site and are currently being studied.

Volunteering at the dig – getting involved

Please note: the Dinosaur Dreaming dig project is not currently accepting volunteers.

Further Reading

Vickers-Rich, P., Monaghan, J. M., Baird, R. F. and Rich, T. H. 1991. Vertebrate Palaeontology of Australasia. Pioneer Design Studio, Novacek.

Vickers-Rich, P. and Rich, T. H. 1993. Australia’s polar dinosaurs. Scientific American, July 1993: 50–55.

Vickers-Rich, P., and Rich, T., 2000. Dinosaurs of Darkness. Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest.

Comments (70)

sort by
newest
oldest
chris oh 3 July, 2009 15:44
love them old bones
reply
Aida Crombach 17 July, 2009 16:13
Excellent activity that potentialy is able to join scientific and individual effort to develop the resources of the area.
reply
john 12 November, 2009 09:41
well yes while these bones are old why dig them up why not leave them there? it's like going graverobbing? don't you think.
reply
Discovery Centre 12 November, 2009 13:09

Interesting point, John. While projects like these may appear to have an eerie side, it's also true that almost everything we know about prehistoric life depends on palaeontology projects like this one.  

Justin 14 January, 2010 10:31
Is it possible to look for fossils at this site on an independent (informal) basis? i.e as a casual visitor. If so, what do the fossils themselves look like?
reply
Discovery Centre 14 January, 2010 16:05

Hi Justin, thanks for the enquiry.  You are welcome to visit the beach at Inverloch and search for your own fossils, just as you can go and have a look at the Dinosaur Dreaming site.  You will find the many links on this and the other Museum Victoria dinosaur information sheets useful in identifying fossils.

bob 1 March, 2010 17:27
how do u know if u found a fossil
reply
Discovery Centre 2 March, 2010 14:25

Hi Bob, the Discovery Centre has a free identification service.  If you think you may have found a fossil, you can take advantage of this service.  You can read all about the details and guidelines for identifications here

michael 21 March, 2010 13:58
Iwould like to do some basic fossil fosicking , my children are 5,11,13,16.Can someone tell me when I could introduce them to this great hobby,We are in Ipswich Queensland but will travel a little for the right place
reply
Discovery Centre 22 March, 2010 11:41

Hi Michael – If you contact the Queensland Museum through their Inquiry Centre they may also be able to provide you with advice about fossil hunting in the Ipswich region. Have fun!

Rhys Walkley 15 June, 2010 23:38
What a great service and interesting study area! Full applause for the volunteer workers throughout the year who labour on the cast deposits south of San Remo and west of Inverloch. How difficult would it be on the Dinosaur Dreaming website for Tom and Wendy to post clear pictures of Teinolophos,Steropodon, Kryoryctes, Ausktribosphenos, Bishops and Corriebaatar , Chelykarapookus's mold and several Koonwarra fish,insect and mollusc genera including Koonwarria?
reply
Margaret Young / Atkinson 19 November, 2010 22:51
Having been brought up in the area all my life. My Father born 1903 / Mother born in 1916 Kongwak. Never once at school were we ever told about dinosaur bones being found in the area! To my amazement in 1990 while watching a Canadian produced "Dinosaur" program, the palaeontologist concluded that "ALL dinosaurs" originated from - "Inverloch, Australia" and colonised the WORLD from there! WOW! Wished I had my "TIVO" then so I could have rewound it and pressed the record button!
reply
hale901 28 December, 2010 13:50
well i am 13 years old and i would like to find out how much it costs to have a tour at this dinosaur dreaming site?
reply
Discovery Centre 30 December, 2010 10:19
Hi Hale - I'm not aware of any commercial or paid fossil tours of the beach, but it is a public area, and you're welcome to visit it whenever you like!
Gary 6 January, 2011 15:48
I took my daughter down to look for some fossils and the tide was in:( Any sites we can look at closer to home (Ringwood)? I heard there are some sites near the quarry in Lilydale but it all seems to be fenced off
reply
Mick 10 January, 2011 19:35
I am a regular walker around the cliffs at Eagles Nest. There appears to be little mention of the numerous fine examples of petrified wood in the area.
reply
John 14 January, 2011 12:32
Where exactly can i take my young family to visit the Involoch site. Thanks
reply
alexander 19 January, 2011 08:58
Hi, I am nealy 9 years old. Please tell me when the next fossil dig for public volunteers at Flat Rocks will be. Alexander
reply
Discovery Centre 19 January, 2011 14:08

Hi Alexander - sorry to say, but unfortunately you need to be over 18 to be involved in the the digging  at Dinosaur Dreaming. However, on Sunday February 13 there will be a ‘Friends of Dinosaur Dreaming’ day onsite, where visitors are welcome to come and watch the dig in process, talk to the volunteers and see a selection of some of the fossils found there.  

If you are interested in going and seeing this, you can visit the site on Feb 13 from late morning. Access to the dig is from ‘The Caves’ carpark on the Inverloch-Cape Paterson road; a few km outside Inverloch, take the steps down to the beach access and look for the Dinosaur Dreaming flags at the site not far from the base of the steps.

Claude Joseph 25 January, 2011 22:07
That’s a great opportunity to see how fossils are found. Also check out the Bunurong Environment Centre at Inverloch where there is a dinosaur fossil display and brochures on Dinosaur Dreaming.
reply
Alexander 2 February, 2011 17:39
Thankyou for the Friends day info. Could you please tell me the times the Friends will be there to speak to visitors.
reply
Discovery Centre 4 February, 2011 13:09
Hi again Alexander - there is usually only one 'Friends' day each year; and this year it os on the 13th of Feb as outlined earlier. The dig is only active for a few weeks in February and March each year, so if you can't make it on the 13th, unfortunately you may have to wait until next year for the next 'Friends' day.
Alexander's mum 5 February, 2011 12:45
Thanks again, sorry, what Alexander meant was what time is late morning on the 13th of Feb, eg. should we arrive at 10am or 11am and how long are the Friends generously offering their time for - will it be for a couple of hours or will they be there until, say 5pm. Also, will the dig be on if it is raining/windy (which I think is the forecast). Your advice is appreciated as Alexander is very keen! Thankyou
Discovery Centre 7 February, 2011 16:23
Hi Alexander's mum - Arriving at 11am on the day would be fine, it is fairly informal from past experience. A small amount of wind and rain probably wouldn't discourage the diggers too much, as these conditions are not that uncommon.
Alexander's mum 10 February, 2011 17:32
Hello again. Are we allowed to dig/fossick around the beach area for fossils and, if so, are we allowed to take any small finds home? I want to be sure we do the right thing, especially with a child in tow. Thankyou.
Discovery Centre 12 February, 2011 12:28

Hi Alexander's mum, thank you for checking in and doing the right thing. As the area is a reserve any fossicking/digging on the beach at Dinosaur Dreaming can only be undertaken by Dinosaur Dreaming workers and volunteers who have the required permission to dig in the Bunurong Marine Park from Parks Victoria.

 

kevin Allen 8 February, 2011 10:14
Hi there, My wife and I are both teachers and have a keen interest in fossils/history (wife wanted to be an archiologist). We have been trying to find out about the dig at Inverloch for years but didn't know who to contact. A fellow teacher sent out an email about this coming Sunday at the dig. I'm sure we will be there with bells on. Catherine has been collecting some fossils and shows her class (who are fascinated)and was wondering if we bought a few along to the dig could someone id them for her?
reply
Discovery Centre 9 February, 2011 11:11
Hi Kevin - diggers may be able to look at your fossils on the day, but they will also be busy with other work as well; another alternative to consider is that you are welcome to bring your fossils to us at the Discovery Centre at Melbourne Museum to be identified at any time
Deborah 26 February, 2011 11:52
Hi, Im planning on going up to Inverloch tomorrow and I just wanted to make sure, are we allowed to look for fossils and take any small finds home? We understand nothing can be taken from the Marine park but what about digging outside of the Marine Park?
reply
Discovery Centre 28 February, 2011 15:39
Hello Deborah - The answer depends on exactly where you are talking about, but as a general rule it's not really a good idea to collect and/or remove fossils or rocks from anywhere without express permission to do so; the fossil dig at Inverloch is within the Bunurong Marine  Park, and other sites nearby include other marine parks and reserves, council or crown land, or privately owned land that includes coastline - all of these types of land have laws regarding the removal of material (fossils included), and most require a permit to do so.
Christopher Heads 4 May, 2011 18:35
What you people need to Know is that todays kids are what you were yesterday.Do not brush off the young ones so interested in what YOU love, as they also love or have an interest in.Considered membership but put off from wasting an easy $44.00. Looks good all the positive feed back so lets see if you are brave enough to post some negitive feed back. I'm a dissapointed parent but not the one.
reply
Discovery Centre 6 May, 2011 12:06

Thank you for the feedback Christopher, however it's not clear to us which of the comments above this relates to; we think it is important that enquirers, regardless of their age, are given accurate information on the legal and safety issues associated with collecting fossils. This isn't intended as a 'brush off', more as responsible advice from our perspective at Museum Victoria.

Feel free to contact us via the 'Contact Us' link at the bottom of this page if you wish to discuss this further.

janet 19 May, 2011 22:37
Hi I am interested in being involved in the next dig and would like some information, of when it will be, who to contact and how to get involved. Regards, Janet.
reply
Discovery Centre 20 May, 2011 12:59
Hi Janet, please register your interest for the dig in August via our Ask the Experts page.
jacqui 26 June, 2011 15:36
hi there we are wanting to get a permit to go fossil fossicing, how do we do that and how much is it. thank you so much for your time. kind regards jacqui
reply
Discovery Centre 1 July, 2011 11:47

Hi Jacqui - there are a few legal issues about excavating fossils, and there is no single permit that is available which allows you to fossick - you would need to get the appropriate permission from the landholder of your fossicking locality; be they private land owners, or government bodies responsible for parks, reserves, council and crown land. Please also be aware of some of the safety precaustions when fossicking, there is some helpful information on this on our Information Sheet at http://museumvictoria.com.au/discoverycentre/infosheets/fossil-collecting---methods/

Hope this helps

Brett 5 August, 2011 21:15
I have a 7-year old son who would be fascinated to visit the Dinosaur Dreaming Inverloch Fossil site on a "Friends day". Do you know yet when the next one of these might be? Thanks, Brett
reply
Discovery Centre 19 August, 2011 12:51

Hello Brett; the Friends day for 2012 has not yet been scheduled, but once it is it will be posted here or you can simply call us in the Discovery Centre in early January 2012, and we will hopefully have clearer details by that date.

Hope this helps

 

beckie vandehoef 17 August, 2011 08:43
hello, we are interested in heading up to inverloch to have a look around, will there be a dig in august? cheers!
reply
Naomi, mum of Josh 11 October, 2011 00:30
My son Josh is a 9 year old budding palaentologist and astronaut. He is very keen to visit on the friends day next year. We have visited the Inverloch site but not during a dig and he was beside himself knowing the dinosaurs had been there.We are waiting for the date to be released. Just wondering if there is something available for "bright and talented" kids with true passion other than the explorer club? We understand the delicate nature of the work at the dig but is there anywhere that they can actually have a go? It really means the world to him and it'd just be such a thrill for him to get hands on even for a minute or to go to a talk about palaeontology. Just looking for something to challenge his interests. Thanks
reply
Discovery Centre 17 October, 2011 15:39

Hi Naomi and Josh; we'd be most happy to meet you on the 'Friends Day' onsite at Inverloch and show you some of the fossils and the work that is being done, but I'm sorry to say that all active participants in the dig must be 18 years or older for health and safety reasons.

The date and details of the 2012 Friends Day will be published on this page soon, stay tuned for an update...

Belinda 19 October, 2011 18:05
Hi - could you please let me know when (or if) there's another chance to join the dig as a volunteer? Many thanks!
reply
Discovery Centre 20 October, 2011 10:36

Hi Belinda; unfortunately applications for prospective volunteers closed on September 30th, and the selection process for new volunteers based on these applications is now well underway. As a result, I am sorry to say we can’t assist you with becoming involved in the 2012 dig.

Should you be interested in participating in the 2013 dig, we recommend you contact the Discovery Centre via the "Contact us" link at the bottom of this page around August 2012; by this time we hope to commence the recruitment of new volunteers for the 2013 dig.

Hope this helps

Discovery Centre 17 November, 2011 15:02
Just a quick update for those interested - the 'Friends of Dinosaur Dreaming' Day at the dig site near Inverloch is scheduled for Sunday 26th February. Low tide is around 10am, so anyone planning on turning up should get there in the morning as we will have to be off the beach by 2pm at the latest. The day is primarily for subscribed members of the "Friends of Dinosaur Dreaming" program, however the diggers are happy to show anyone how the work is done and answer any questions.
reply
Jenny 25 January, 2012 17:03
Hi Could you advise of what happens on the Friends day on 26th Feb? Is it fairly informal, or are there structured walks/talks? We are planning a visit with our 4 year old for that time, and want to ensure that he does not get overtired and hot if we are there too early. Thanks , Jenny
reply
Discovery Centre 26 January, 2012 12:01
Hi Jenny - the 'Friends' day is informal, and primaily for individuals and families who are subscribers to the "Friends of Dinosaur Dreaming", although other visitors are also welcome. There aren't really structured talks, it's more like a Q&A with the workers, see some examples of the fossils that are found and to watch the dig in action.
Jamie 31 January, 2012 16:00
Hi, Im interested to know if Dinosaur Dreaming has a tour you can do, apart from the 'friends' day?? Or if there is any other site in Melbourne that does Dinosaur tours/talks?
reply
Discovery Centre 13 February, 2012 10:52

Hi Jamie - as excavation only occurs for less than two months every year, there really isn't much opportunity for public engagement beyond the 'Friends' day; you may wish to contact the Bunurong Environment Centre at Inverloch, who occasionally run school holiday activities that might be of interest.

Hope this helps

Jenni & Jim Reside 1 February, 2012 11:46
Hi, We'll be staying near Inveloch from Feb 10-18, 2012 and were wondering if we could get involved
reply
Discovery Centre 1 February, 2012 16:00

Hi Jenni & Jim - unfortunately we're not able to involve you in this year's dig; applications for becoming a volunteer usually open in August or September in the preceeding year, and involves a selection process followed by specialised training for selected applicants. If you wish to be involved in next years dig, we reccommend you contact the Discovery Centre (via "Contact Us" at the bottom of this page) in August 2012 for details on applying for the 2013 dig.

Hope this helps

Jenny 13 February, 2012 17:19
We were hoping to get down to the Friend's day on the 26th, but we have been having trouble organising accomodation because of the big motor bike weekend. I don't know if this has been the case previously, but would request that you try not to hold it the same weekend in future. Thanks and best wishes, Jenny
reply
Discovery Centre 14 February, 2012 13:02
Hi Jenny - That is a little unfortunate, however just to clarify, the "Friends Day" is primarily for members of the Friends of Dinosaur Dreaming, a subscription 'club' run by the Monash Science Centre, although interested visitors are also welcome. The date for this is determined by the managers of the dig, and needs to fit in the 5-6 weeks on intensive excavation that occurs in the summer of each year. The selected date is based on the best days for site accessibility, which is determined by tides (as the dig is only accessible at low tide) as well as practicality for the dig crew at that time.
Glenn 26 March, 2012 23:16
Dig those old bones!
reply
Donna 1 May, 2012 16:16
Hi, my son is in yr 9, next year for work experience he said that he would like to go to a dig site as he is very interested in Paleontology. I'm just wondering if you have any suggestions as to what he could do or who I should ask to try and help him, thanks in advance, Donna
reply
Discovery Centre 4 June, 2012 15:35

Hi Donna - the Dinosaur Dreaming dig may be of interest, but participants in the actuall digging are all over 18 for safety reasons; one option worth considering might be to come to the annual "Friends of Dinosaur Dreaming Day", which is usally in late February onsite at Inverloch; you may wish to check back on this page around the Christmas Holidays to see when this is scheduled for 2013.

Hope this helps

close this reply
Write your reply to Discovery Centre's comment All fields are required

We love receiving comments, but can’t always respond.

V 25 May, 2012 20:44
Hi! I'm in year 11 and I want to study archaeology and ancient history. In the meantime I've been trying to find some work experience, I've tried many places but haven't found anything yet. Do you have any suggestions of places for work experience/volunteer work? Thanks in advance, V
reply
scott 5 June, 2012 14:33
hi wow sounds like an amazing place,my son(4) is dinosaur crazy, knows all about the diffrent types etc and we want to go and try and find some fossils, were is a good place to take a young one we are on the mornington peninsula
reply
ryan 22 June, 2012 09:12
im going to be Melbourne in late January/ early February and would love to Volunteer with this for about a week if i could, I am 21, how would I go about being able to do this?
reply
Discovery Centre 22 June, 2012 14:04
Thank you for your enquiry about taking part in the Dinosaur Dreaming Dig at Inverloch this summer. The recruitment process normally commences around August/September each year. As you have registered your interest via our Online Enquiry Form, we have added your details to the mailing list for next year's dig. We will contact you again with more information closer to the commencement of the recruitment process.
Joanne 30 January, 2013 19:42
After going to the museum yesterday my 6 year old Jimmy has started digging up the backyard again looking for fossils. We would love to visit an official dig. We know that we can't participate in the dig but would love to visit the Inverloch Dinosaur Dreaming Site this Feb 2013. Could you please tell me the date that Visitors are welcome to come and have a look. Thanks Jo
reply
Paula McHenry 5 February, 2013 12:13
Could you please advise dates site is open to public? Thank you Paula
reply
Discovery Centre 6 February, 2013 10:02

Hi Paula - as the dig is on a public beach, you are free to come and look at any time, digging will be occurring on the beach every day for the next few weeks at low tide.

However, there will be a special "Friends Day" on February 17 on site, where the diggers will be set up to show visitors examples of the fossils being found, and can answer questions from the public. If you were interested, you could also sign up to become a "Friend of Dinosaur Dreaming" on the day.

David Closs 11 February, 2013 19:06
We would love to visit the site,We live at phillip Island
reply
Mel 15 February, 2013 16:31
Hi, we know about the friends day, but we are wondering if we come on another day what we will find. Is the dig area fenced off? If so what kind of view can we get of the dig? Will there be any opportunity to speak with and interact with members of the dig team on days other than the Friends Day? Just wondering if we need to try and make it there on Sunday in the very hot weather or if visiting another day is still worthwhile, we have a 5 year old who is keen to visit. Thanks
reply
Maia Coghlan 14 September, 2013 20:59
Hi, I've been trying to regularly check to see when applications for volunteers for next year's dig are open but I can't find anything still. Have I missed it? Or are applications not open yet?
reply
Discovery Centre 15 September, 2013 12:58
Hi Maia - assuming the email address you've used for this comment is correct, someone will be in touch shortly with this year's information.
Leah Wilson-Barling 10 October, 2013 13:06
Hi DC, I was hoping to apply for the dinosaur dreaming dig but i have not been able to find any directives with the appropriate online sites as to how or when applications are made, or when or if the digs are proceeding this 2013-2014 summer period. An update would be much appreciated.
reply
Discovery Centre 12 October, 2013 15:10
Hello Leah - arrangements for Dinosaur Dreaming 2014 are quite different to previous years; the dig will not be held at Inverloch this coming season, so this is why there's been no updates on this page. The 2014 season will instead focus on a less publicly-accessible site near Cape Otway to the west of Melbourne. Volunteering opportunities have been limited for this season, so these have not been widely promoted.
Helen 20 April, 2014 08:35
Hello we would really like to know what happened, what did you find this year thanks Helen
reply
Discovery Centre 21 April, 2014 10:35
Hi Helen! You might like to have a look at the Dinosaur Dreaming blog.