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Community & Business

21 June, 2023

Significant fossil discovery in Dalrymple Creek

When Phyllis Shooter strolled along an exposed bank of Dalrymple Creek on her property in 1994, she had no idea she was about to discover what Head of Geosciences at the Queensland Museum, Dr Andrew Rozefelds, described as a significant fossil find of a Palorchestes.

Phyllis Shooter, finder of the fossil and Head of Geosciences at the Queensland Museum Dr Andrew Rozefelds hold the Palorchestes fossil. Ian Sobbe joins them.

A Palorchestes is an extinct genus of terrestrial, herbivorous marsupial and was endemic to Australia from the Miocene epoch (23 million to 2.6 million years ago) through to the Pleistocene epoch   (2.6 million to 11,700 years ago). 

Discoveries of Palorchestes fossils found on the Darling Downs  date from  85,000 to 135,000 years ago.

When first fossil remains were found in the 19th century it was thought to be  the remains of a prehistoric kangaroo but scientists later realised it was  unrelated.

Some Palorchestes were similar in size to a large horse, being around 2.5 metres tall with an estimated body mass of around 1000 kg. although smaller species existed later.

The Palorchestes had four powerful legs, with the front legs bearing large claws, similar to those of a koala, which they probably used to pull down leaves and strip the bark from trees.

Ancient rock art depicting animals such as thylacines (Tasmanian Tiger) and depictions of Palochestes supports the belief that human habitation of the Australian continent overlaps with the existence of Palorchestes on the continent.

Scientists believe that climate change was the main cause of the extinction of the Palorchestes and other mega fauna while over hunting by humans is also seen as a possible contributing factor.

Phyllis Shooter was unaware of any of this information when she saw half buried in the creek bed a small jaw with molar type teeth.

The majority of people would have assumed this was  the jaw of a sheep or kangaroo and thrown the jaw remains away but Phyllis had an interest in ancient fossil remains and decided to take the find home.

If that decision was not unusual in itself the next step in this discovery took coincidence to an even higher level when Phyllis decided to show the item to her next door neighbour.

Neighbour Ian Sobbe just happens to work closely with the Queensland Museum Paleontology Department and has a private fossil and rock collection that would do credit to any museum.

Ian was able to remove soil and rock from the fossil and identify Phyllis’ discovery as a Palorchestes.

Contact with the Queensland Museum was made as Phyllis decided to give the jaw bone to the museum for further research.

Dr Andrew Rozefelds arrived earlier this month to take the jaw bone back to the Queensland Museum for further research and where it will later go on display.

Dr Rozefelds also indicated that the jaw bone would most likely be exhibited at some stage in the Cobb+Co Museum in Toowoomba.

Phyllis, Ian and Dr Rozefelds all share not just an interest in ancient fossils but a passion that forces them to eagerly plan their next walk along a creek bed in search of fossil remains.

Their fossil discoveries help formulate a clearer picture of the ancient fauna and flora of this ancient continent.

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