It’s time to meet Australotitan cooperensis, a new species of giant sauropod from Eromanga in southwestern Queensland. Australotitan, “Southern Titan of the Cooper”, named from where it was found, is scientifically described by paleontologists and staff at the Queensland Museum and Eromanga Natural History Museum.
The fossilized skeleton was originally nicknamed ‘Cooper’ after the nearby Cooper Creek, where it was first discovered by owners of Mackenzie properties and excavated with the Queensland Museum in 2007. Finding ‘Cooper’ has changed the life of the Mackenzie family and led to its establishment. . of the Eromanga Natural History Museum.
Australotitan belonged to a group of dinosaurs known as the Titanosaurs, which were the last surviving group of long-necked sauropods and the largest known terrestrial animals that ever existed. Australotitan is now the largest known dinosaur species from Australia, making it the largest land animal that has ever walked in outback Queensland and sits within the top 10 to 15 largest dinosaurs in the world. It is estimated to have reached a height of 5 to 6.5 meters at the hip and a length of 25 to 30 meters – as long as a basketball court! It may have weighed somewhere between 23 and 74 tons, equivalent to 1400 red kangaroos!
The study showed that all four sauropod dinosaurs that lived in Australia around the same time (96 to 92 million years ago) were more closely related to each other than they were to other dinosaurs found elsewhere. To check Australotitan was another species, its bones were to be compared with the bones of other species in Queensland and globally. Not exactly and easy task when dealing with fragile and very heavy bones held in museums between 100 and 1000 kilometers.
For the first time, the team used new digital technology to capture each bone in 3D and compare it to the bones of its closest relatives. Many of these digital ‘cyber types’ form part of the Queensland Museum’s digital collection run by Project DIG, a partnership between the Queensland Museum Network and BHP.
The digital capture process has also led to some remarkable discoveries. It has been shown that several of ‘Cooper’s’ bones were crushed by the footsteps of other sauropod dinosaurs. This can be seen in a sauropod trampling zone found during the excavation of ‘Cooper’. The team found a stone shelf, nearly 100 feet long, representing a sauropod trail. Footprints of sauropods have been preserved, trampled through the mud and even the bones of another smaller sauropod in the soft soil. This work has formed fascinating studies of dinosaur track fossils around Queensland.
The scientific publication marks a seventeen-year culmination of the joint effort between the Queensland Museum and the Eromanga Natural History Museum paleontologists, geologists, fossil preparers and most importantly volunteers. Australotitan adds to the growing list of unique Australian dinosaur species discovered in Outback Queensland, and shows just as importantly a whole new area for dinosaur finds in Australia.
Keep an eye out for more behind the scenes stories of Queensland dinosaur discoveries!
Project DIG is a partnership between the Queensland Museum and BHP that scans our collections and digitizes our research for people around the world.
Written by Rochelle Lawrence, Senior Research Assistant, and Scott Hocknull, Senior Curator, Geosciences, Queensland Museum.
Reference: “A new giant sauropod, Australotitan cooperensis gen. et sp. Nov., from the middle of the Cretaceous in Australia ”by Scott A. Hocknull, Melville Wilkinson, Rochelle A. Lawrence, Vladislav Konstantinov, Stuart Mackenzie and Robyn Mackenzie, 7 June 2021, PeerJ.
DOI: 10.7717 / peerj.11317