Shimmering opal stones have been found concealing a cache of perfectly preserved dinosaur fossils, which new research reveals belong to an entirely new species.
Discovering Opal-Encrusted Bones
Australia's town of Lightning Ridge is known for their beautiful underground opals, but it's not unheard for miners to pick up the occasional bone or two among the gemstones.
Opal miner Robert Foster stumbled upon the opalized bones in the 1980s, but the fossils weren't studied until they were donated to the Australian Opal Centre in 2015.
Initially, scientists thought all the bones were all part of a single skeleton. Upon a closer look, they realized that there were fragments of four different shoulder blades of various sizes.
This bundle of fossils is the first herd of dinosaurs ever discovered in Australia, a report from National Geographic noted. Sixty of the bones belonged to one adult dinosaur about 16 feet long, which is the most complete dinosaur fossil found preserved in opal. The rest of the fossils belong to juveniles of different sizes.
A New Species
In a paper published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, scientists finally reveal the identity of the mysterious dinosaur fossils that have been masquerading as gemstones: Fostoria dhimbangunmal.
Dated to about 100 million years ago in the mid-Cretaceous period, it existed when Lightning Ridge was an expansive floodplain.
"The floodplains were frequently wet and richly vegetated, meaning they were a good place for plant-eating dinosaurs," said study lead author Phil Bell, a paleontologist from the University of New England.
With the world featuring the warmest climate of the last 150 million years at the time, Bell described the dinosaurs' living conditions as an "incredible greenhouse Earth."
The Fostoria, named in honor of the miner who discovered the herd of fossils, is reportedly the size of an elephant that walked on all four legs yet capable of moving on its hind limbs alone. As a plant-eating dinosaur, it likely consumed primitive flora such as horsetails, bunya, and hoop pines.
Fostoria belongs to a group of dinosaurs that's known to evolve into the duckbilled hadrosaurs, which populated North America and Asia about 66 million years ago.
Dinos In Australia
There are few dinosaur species discovered in Down Under with only 24 known Australian dinosaurs so far, according to paleontologist Stephen Poropat from the Swinburne University of Technology.
This discovery of a totally new species is even more incredible and opens up more opportunities for study in the region.