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, 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.
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 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. Photographer/Source: Lesley Kool
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.
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.
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.
Please note: the Dinosaur Dreaming dig project is not currently accepting volunteers.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
We love receiving comments, but can’t always respond.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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