The paleontological equivalent of a gold rush is happening in an unexpected place: Australia. Australia wasn’t a popular place to dig for dinosaurs before the turn of century.
That all changed, however, when Australian farmer David Elliott, invited some scientists onto his land in the early 2000s to explore what he thought was a dinosaur graveyard, The New York Times reported.
Elliott was raised in the same farmland that belonged to him and his father. According to NYT, both his father and he had discovered dozens of fragmented small fossils close to the surface for many years.
It was only after Elliott and the guests he invited dug further that they found something unique. “About five feet down, the earth was teeming with chunks of bone,” NYT reported.
Only half a dozen dinosaurs have been discovered in Australia compared to the 81 that have turned up in the US. Australia just wasn’t a place where paleontologists expected to find entire fossils intact.
All that was needed was a deeper dig and you “transition from not finding anything, to finding everything,” Scott Hocknull said, an Australian paleontologist who had been with Elliott during the fateful dig.
Since the early 2000s, paleontologists have gone on to make even more grand discoveries.
Earlier this year, scientists excavated a near-complete skull of a long-necked dinosaur species called sauropods. And in 2021, paleontologists reported that fossilized bones, initially mistaken for a pile of rocks, belonged to one of the largest dinosaur species ever found on Earth.
Now, paleontologists native to Australia who had left to pursue their careers in more dinosaur-rich regions are returning home, sparking a new-found surge in paleontology for the country, according to the NYT.
As for Elliott, he uncovered so many dinosaur bones that he set up his own museum called the Australian Age of Dinosaurs, which attracted 60,000 visitors in 2021, according to the NYT.