Savannasaurus elliottorum

The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum would like to introduce Savannasaurus elliottorum, a new genus and species of dinosaur from western Queensland, Australia. The bones come from the Winton Formation, a geological deposit approximately 95 million years old. The paper naming the new dinosaur (available here) was published on Thursday October 20 at 2pm BST (Friday October 21 at 12am AEST) in Scientific Reports—an open access, online journal published by Nature.

S. elliottorum was one of several types of long-necked, plant-eating sauropods that existed in Queensland during the mid-Cretaceous, 98-95 million years ago. Others include Diamantinasaurus matildae and Wintonotitan wattsi. 

S. elliotorum's bones were excavated in 2005 on a property northeast of Winton and constitute one of the most complete sauropod skeletons ever found in Australia. S. elliottorum had very wide hips and widely-spaced, stocky limbs with five toes on each foot. 

ETYMOLOGY: [The Elliott Family] Grassland Lizard 

GEOLOGY: Winton Formation, central western Queensland 
AGE: Earliest Late Cretaceous (Cenomanian) 98–95 million years ago

DISCOVERY

S. elliottorum was discovered by David Elliott, co-founder of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum, while mustering sheep in early 2005. As Elliott recalled yesterday, “I was nearly home with the mob—only about a kilometre from the yards—when I spotted a small pile of fossil bone fragments on the ground. I was particularly excited at the time as there were two pieces of a relatively small limb bone and I was hoping it might be a meat-eating theropod dinosaur.” Mr Elliott returned to the site later that day to collect the bone fragments with his wife Judy, who ‘clicked’ two pieces together to reveal a complete toe bone from a plant-eating sauropod. The Elliotts marked the site and made arrangements to hold a dig later that year.

The site was excavated in September 2005 by a joint Australian Age of Dinosaurs (AAOD) Museum and Queensland Museum team and 17 pallets of bones encased in rock were recovered. After almost ten years of painstaking work by staff and volunteers at the AAOD Museum, the hard siltstone concretion around the bones was finally removed to reveal one of the most complete sauropod dinosaur skeletons ever found in Australia. More excitingly, it belonged to a completely new type of dinosaur.

The new discovery was nicknamed Wade in honour of prominent Australian palaeontologist Dr Mary Wade. “Mary was a very close friend of ours and she passed away while we were digging at the site,” said Mr Elliott. “We couldn’t think of a better way to honour her than to name the new dinosaur after her.”

“Before today we have only been able to refer to this dinosaur by its nickname,” said Dr Stephen Poropat, Research Associate at the AAOD Museum and lead author of the study. “Now that our study is published we can refer to Wade by its formal name, S. elliottorum,” Dr Poropat said. “The name references the savannah country of western Queensland in which it was found, and honours the Elliott family for their ongoing commitment to Australian palaeontology.”

DISTRIBUTION

Titanosaurs achieved a worldwide distribution by at least 125 million years ago, suggesting that mid-Cretaceous Australian sauropods represent remnants of clades which were widespread during the Early Cretaceous. These lineages would have entered Australasia via dispersal from South America, presumably across Antarctica. High latitude sauropod dispersal might have been facilitated by Albian–Turonian warming
that lifted a palaeoclimatic dispersal barrier between Antarctica and South America.

These lineages were prevented from reaching Australia until climatic warming of southern higher latitudes occurred during the late Albian. This facilitated sauropod dispersal from South America to Australia, via Antarctica. Faunal turnover during the mid-Cretaceous, which was potentially driven by global warming and rising sea levels, subsequently resulted in regional extinctions which increased continent-scale endemicity.

SKELETAL REMAINS

The holotype specimen of S. elliottorum is comprised of one posterior cervical vertebra; several cervical ribs; eight dorsal vertebrae; several dorsal ribs; at least four coalesced sacral vertebrae with processes; at least five partial caudal vertebrae; fragmentary scapula; left coracoid; left and right sternal plates; incomplete left and right humeri; shattered ulna; left radius; right metacarpals I–V; left metacarpal IV; two manual phalanges; fragments of left and right ilia; left and right pubes and ischia, fused together; left astragalus; right metatarsal III; and associated fragments. This disarticulated skeleton was found within a single concretion. The dorsal vertebrae and ribs were in approximate order but were somewhat scattered immediately in front of the incomplete sacrum and puboischiadic sheet. 

Left: Savannasaurus elliottorum holotype specimen AODF 660. Middle: Type site map showing the approximate association of the bones. Right: Savannasaurus coossified right and left pubes (anterior view).

 

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION WE RECOMMEND READING... 

Scientific papers, Savannasaurus elliottorum (Wade). 

Wikipedia, Savannasaurus elliottorum.

For more information read an excerpt from one of the first articles written on Wade (Savannasaurus), from "Birth of an Age" (2.87mb) by Paul Tierney found in AAOD Journal, Issue 4

 

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