Rare Chance to Give Megafauna a Makeover

16 October 2012

The South Australian Museum will give 20 volunteers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to prepare fossils of the largest extinct marsupial known in Australia.

Scientists will clean and conserve bones unearthed at Collinsville Station in the Burra region, just over 150 kilometres north of Adelaide, for a refurbished Megafauna Gallery at the Museum. The intention is to give locals (people within the Goyder Council District of South Australia) a hands-on experience of preparing ancient fossils with the expertise of our Palaeontology team.

South Australian Museum Assistant Collections Manager of Palaeontology, Mary-Anne Binnie, is organising the workshop. She says it will offer an opportunity to people with no scientific background, but who are passionate about science and fossils, to engage in a project of global significance.

"The workshop will allow people to work with the scientists and see what's involved behind the scenes in finding bones and ultimately preparing them for display and research at the Museum," she says.

The first of the bones were discovered on Collinsville Station in May 2011 by the Cousins family of Burra, who brought them in to the South Australian Museum for identification. "We didn't know how significant the site was until we actually went out there and thought, this is quite a major find," says Ms Binnie. "We believe there may be fairly well preserved partial skeletons of two adults at that dig site."

The Diprotodon optatum– an animal resembling a giant wombat – is thought to have died out between 40,000 and 50,000 years ago.

According to South Australian Museum Honorary Research Associate, Professor Rod Wells, the first fossilised remains of the giant marsupials were discovered at a dam site at Bundey and along Baldina Creek, near Burra, in 1889. Today there are seven fossil-yielding sites in the region east of Burra known. Those include the Diprotodon, as well as the 'giant emu' Genyornis, the marsupial lion Thylacoleo and the Tasmanian Devil.

"The bones from Collinsville Station are in an excellent state of preservation," says Prof Wells. "Once cleaned and stabilised they should allow palaeontologists the rare opportunity to reconstruct near complete skeletons of individual animals. Most other museum displays of Diprotodon tend to be composite skeletons made up from several individuals."

He also says research on these bones should offer scientists another piece in the jigsaw of Australian megafaunal extinctions. "As they are near complete skeletons we know they have been rapidly buried near where they died and therefore we can be more confident that they are not only of similar age to the surrounding sediments but also can be related to the vegetation and climate of that time."

The 'Megafauna Makeover' workshop will be a one-day dig and bone-preparation session on Sunday 28 October 2012 from 10.30am to 4.30pm at the Collinsville Site. It is open to all ages over eight years.

The volunteers will need patience, persistence and passion as they carry out the slow process of cleaning and hardening the fossils.

Residents in the Goyder Council District who are interested in participating in the program can find details published in the Mid North Broadcaster newspaper this week.


About the Proposed Gallery

South Australia's significant megafaunal fossils are world renowned and locations such as the World Heritage Naracoorte Caves are nationally and internationally recognised. The South Australian Museum plays a key role in promoting the natural sciences by presenting the collections to the public for education and discovery.

The objective of the 'Megafauna Makeover' project is to collect and prepare fossil material to provide excellent display materials for the proposed Megafauna Gallery. In order to achieve this, volunteers from the South Australian regional community of Burra and its surroundings, will be enlisted to participate in a one day workshop to collect, prepare and conserve fossils. In addition, young people from the Magill Training Centre in Adelaide have assisted staff in conserving megafaunal fossils for display at the South Australian Museum.


This 'Unlocking Australia's Potential' initiative is supported by the Australian Government as part of the 'Inspiring Australia' program, with support from Flinders University, Collinsville Station and the Goyder Tourism Working Party.