When a trio of amateur fossil hunters called the “Rock Chicks” ventured out for an afternoon of excavation in their own backyard, they never expected to make a record-breaking find. But the fossil they found wasn’t just any old ancient pile of bones. It was the first of its kind ever discovered in Australia.
While searching Cassandra Prince’s western Queensland cattle station in August, the lady graziers unearthed stumbled upon a massive skull in the dry dirt. “I’m like, no, you know, this is not real,” Prince told The Guardian. “And then I look down again and I’m like, holy hell, I think that’s a skull looking up at me.”
Still half buried in the earth was the complete skeleton of a 100-million-year-old plesiosaur, its skull still connected to its body. The skeleton is so unbelievably intact, in fact, that paleontologists hope to use it to better understand fossils already housed in museums around the world.
The only part of the plesiosaur that’s missing is the back half of its body. Scientists believe this is because the sea creature was “bitten in half” by a kronosaur. The apex predator of the sea, kronosaurs were a terrifying sight to behold. Tipping the scales at more than 20,000 pounds and over thirty feet long, many an ancient sea creature fell victim to the gaping jaws of the vicious reptile.
Paleontologists in Awe of Fully Intact Plesiosaur Fossil
The incredible fossil has largely been a secret until now due to the extreme rarity of the find. But Prince and her companions contacted Dr Epsen Knutsen, the senior curator of paleontology at the Queensland Museum, the moment they discovered it.
“We were extremely excited when we saw this fossil. It is like the Rosetta Stone of marine paleontology,” Knutsen said in a statement. “It may hold the key to unraveling the diversity and evolution of long-necked plesiosaurs in Cretaceous Australia. We have never found a body and a head together. This could hold the key to future research in this field.”
“Because plesiosaurs were two-thirds neck, often the head separated from the body after death. This makes it very hard to find a fossil preserving both together. So we are using CT scanning to give us an insight into these magnificent animals,” he continued.
Scientists dubbed the plesiosaur “Little Prince” in honor of the Rock Chick who found him.
Stretching over 40 feet in length, plesiosaurs glided through the world’s oceans in the time of dinosaurs, hundreds of millions of years ago. They had long necks, flippers, tiny tails, and large bodies, placing them among the most “bizarre animals” on Earth.
“Putting all these pieces together tells a really fantastic story of how the Earth evolved,” Queensland Museum executive Jim Thompson told ABC. “That gives us a lot of ability to understand the biodynamics of these types of animals. How they move, what sort of environments they need to be in, and how a skeleton is put together.”