Opal, Ornithopods, and Australia

In early June, a discovery was published that made me say ‘Oh, cool!’ out loud. To be fair, a lot of things make me say that, but this discovery was rare.

In New South Wales, Australia, the bones of a new species of ornithopod (duckbill) dinosaur were unearthed in an opal mine. 

Map of Australia showing where the Shipyard Opal Fields are. From Google Maps.

The dinosaur is now called Fostoria dhimbangunmal(pronounced: fos-TO-ria dim-ban-GOON-mal) after Robert Foster who discovered the bone bed, and after the words for “sheep yard” for the Sheepyard opal fields where the bone bed is located. The words for sheep yard come from the language of the Yuwaalaraay, Yuwaalayaay, and Gamilaraay peoples, who are native peoples from Australia. 

Australia does not have a large fossil record of dinosaurs, so the discovery of Fostoriais important towards understanding what the continent was like in the Mesozoic. The description of the new dinosaur comes from potentially 4 individuals – they found four shoulder blades, three of which were right shoulders, which means there were at least 3 different animals there. Besides the shoulder blades, they found many elements of the arms, legs, vertebral column, and skull. And here’s the part that made me say “Oh, cool!”: the bones are preserved in opal! Opal is known for being a gemstone and is actually the national gemstone of Australia. In the case of these dinosaur bones, it’s a shade of blue, but it can come in a variety of colors.

Photo of one of the bones of Fostoria, preserved in opal. You can see a bit of translucent blue at the top. Photo by Robert A. Smith, Australian Opal Centre.

The bones that were found are all different sizes, representing animals of different ages that were living together. This is the first discovery of a dinosaur herd from Australia! And it’s preserved in opal! How neat is that?

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