Flinders students back in the field

Palaeontology students from Flinders University have been getting their hands dirty looking for megafauna bones at the rich Alacoota fossil site near Alice Springs.

Flinders Associate Professor Trevor Worthy and PhD candidate Tim Niederer uncovering a scapula from a large mammal and a tibiatarsus from a Dromornis stirtoni (‘thunderbird’).

The Alacoota Reserve is a significant fossil site where well-preserved, rare bones are providing evidence of the evolution of the Northern Territory’s animals and climate.

The 2022 dig gave Flinders students the opportunity to get out in the field and work next to researchers and other experts – an experience that has been almost impossible during the past two years of the pandemic, says Professor Gavin Prideaux from the Flinders Palaeontology Lab.

“Palaeontology is a very hands-on experience, so this trip is a really special one when students have an unmatched opportunity to learn from the pros and have fun lying in the sun, digging in the dirt, and discovering the bones of amazing ancient creatures,” he says.

The Alcoota fossil beds are an important paleontological Lagerstätte in the Northern Territory, located about 115km north-east of Alice Springs in Central Australia. It is notable for the occurrence of well-preserved, rare, Miocene vertebrate fossils, including the greatest variety of species of Diprotodontidae that has ever been described.

A complex collection of marsupials, birds and crocodiles lived at the location before the climate started to dry out more than 8 million ago.

Flinders students first joined the field season run by the Museum and Art Gallery of the NT in 1988, when the Flinders University Palaeontology Society (FUPS) formed. Professor Prideaux says it’s impressive that students from Flinders’ long-running and leading palaeontology degree continue to work at the Alacoota site 34 years later.

Among the Flinders cohort at this year’s field season at Alcoota were Associate Professor Trevor Worthy, Dr Diana Fusco, postgraduate students Phoebe McInerney, Jacob Blokland, Grant Gully, Timothee Niederer, Jacob Van Zoelen, Elise Kalderovskis and Fraser Brown, and undergraduate students Emerson Castle, Thomas Khajeh, Celina Slattery, Miriam Amery-Gale, Natalie Jackson and Dylan Slinn.

The Flinders University Palaeontology Society trip was also supported by the Flinders University Student Association and Geological Society of Australia (SA division).

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College of Science and Engineering palaeontology Palaeontology Laboratory