Rare ‘dino-bird’ fossil find in Richmond

Mike D'Arcy at the site of a dig.
Mike D'Arcy at the site of a dig.

A gravel quarry in the North West has revealed an ancient fossil find, over one hundred million years old.

Museum volunteers from Richmond’s marine fossil museum Kronosaurus Korner found bones from a miniature prehistoric ‘dino-bird’ have been discovered by museum volunteers in the quarry – revealing new insights into creatures that once flew above Australia’s ancient inland seas.

The recently discovered fossils were found by Mike D’Arcy, a regular volunteer at Kronosaurus Korner.

Mike has been collecting bags of rock from Richmond’s gravel quarries for years, breaking it down at home and sieving the material for small fossil shark teeth but lately he unearthed tiny fossils he didn’t recognise,

“Some [of the bones] look like miniature claws designed to slash flesh like those from a velociraptor,” Mike said.

Bones from Nanantius eos.

Bones from Nanantius eos.

“They got me really excited.”

Mike knew he had found something special, so he decided to have his fossils identified by the museum’s curator and interpretation manager, Dr Patrick Smith.

Dr Smith said he was dumbfounded by the specimens.

“To me, as a professional palaeontologist, I’ve never seen fossils that are this rare,” he said.

He identified it as a dino-bird from the Cretaceous geological period and finds so far include claws, limb bones and a section of jaw.

Dr Smith said these new bones likely represent a creature named Nanantius eos, a dino-bird that belonged to an extinct group known as enantiornithines.

Mike D'Arcy searches for fossils.

Mike D'Arcy searches for fossils.

“These creatures retained the teeth and clawed hands from their dinosaur ancestors, but otherwise looked very similar to modern birds,” he said.

“Just imagine a cross between a modern crow and a little meat-eating dinosaur.”

Around 100 million years ago Richmond was in a massive inland sea which is not where you might expect to find bird fossils, as they are typically collected from rocks that were deposited in primordial lakes and rivers.

“It’s possible that Nanantius eos may have flown over the open sea in search of food like modern gulls,” Dr Smith said.

“Previous finds near Boulia have shown enantiornithine bones inside the stomachs of marine reptiles (like ichthyosaurs), suggesting they spent a great deal of time over open water.

“Hopefully these new discoveries in Richmond will shed light on their ecology.”

The specimens are now on display at Kronosaurus Korner.

A proud Mike D’Arcy said these tiny fossils acted as a timely reminder of Australia’s rich geo-heritage.

“I marvel to think of what else lays waiting in the ground to be unearthed,” he said.

“It’s vital that we collect, conserve, and study fossils so that we can continue to learn about Australia’s incredible past.”

Mike examines the fossils on the computer.

Mike examines the fossils on the computer.