July 27 (UPI) -- A team of Australian and British palaeontologists have rediscovered the lost burial site of Austrosaurus mckillop, a long-necked sauropod first found in 1932.
Found on an isolated sheep station in Queensland, the dinosaur's origins were lost to time and dust in the wake of the specimen's excavation. Attempts in the 1970s and 90s to relocate the dig site failed.
More recently, researchers analyzing the sauropod's 102-million-year-old bones hypothesized that the excavation was only partial. There were likely more bones hiding beneath the dirt, theorized Dr. Stephen Poropat, a palaeontologist at the Swinburne University of Technology.
Poropat wanted to try once more to find the dig site, so he recruited fellow paleontologist Dr. Tim Holland, and the duo took to the air.
"When we failed to find the Austrosaurus site at ground level, John jumped into his helicopter," Holland, former curator of the Kronosaurus Korner marine fossil museum in Richmond, Australia, said in a news release. "From the air we spotted two wooden posts -- both of which had toppled over -- that had once supported a sign marking the spot."
Following their rediscovery, a team of paleontologists successfully recovered six rib bones, which matched the vertebrate bones at the museum -- yielding a more complete Austrosaurus mckillop skeleton.
The fossils are still too incomplete to determine with certainty the relation of the Early Cretaceous period species to sauropods living in the region 5 to 10 million years later, but it's likely Austrosaurus mckillop was a close relative of other famed sauropod specimens like Winton's titanosaurs.
And while there are no more Austrosaurus mckillop bones to find, scientists expect the region to yield new discoveries in the future.
"Rocks of the right age, deposited in a Cretaceous inland sea known as the Eromanga Sea, are close to the surface all over the Richmond region," said Holland. "Who knows what else might be waiting to be found? A lucky discovery by a grazier, fossil hunter or tourist out there might be a game-changer."
Scientists described their rediscovery of Austrosaurus mckillop in a new paper published this week in Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology.