Rise of the reptiles

Striking paydirt via fossil fossicking

Featured in

  • Published 20231107
  • ISBN: 978-1-922212-89-4
  • Extent: 207pp
  • Paperback, ePub, PDF, Kindle compatible

NOVEMBER 6, 2014: Palaeontologist Craig Pfister stands by a bleak encampment on the windswept grasslands of Eastern Montana, making notes in his pocket-sized field journal. Tomorrow he will pack up his tent, caravan and truck, and head back to Madison, Wisconsin. This year, as dig season comes to a close for the winter, Craig has acquired an extra passenger for the journey home. Or at least, part of one. Two months prior, he noticed a pelvic bone protruding from the sandstone rock that dominates the geology of this vast, empty place. Further investigation revealed an entire, virtually intact triceratops specimen entombed within the landscape. Excavation began and would continue until October the following year. In the meantime, and with the weather closing in, Craig hastily wrote: Season ended with removal of front limbs, scapula, complete skull and tibia.

Eight years later, in March 2022, an exhibition showcasing that same triceratops, the most complete example ever discovered, opened at Melbourne Museum. This extraordinarily beautiful and scientifically important fossilised dinosaur had been purchased by Museums Victoria for the princely sum of $3 million, a price that now seems like a bargain given how much dinosaur remains sell for on the open market. Horridus, as the dinosaur is now called – the sex of the creature is unknown, as is often the case in dinosaur fossils, where indications of dimorphism are difficult to discern – is 87 per cent complete. The head, incorporating the horns, frill, eye sockets, snout and beak, is 99 per cent complete. The fossilised bones are a deep, chocolate-brown colour, unique for a reptile that died sixty-seven million years ago. Since the specimen was uncovered in a former riverbed, it is assumed sediment mingled with bone matter as it turned to rock during the two million years Horridus had to sink into the mire prior to an asteroid wiping out every last one of its fellow ceratopsians.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

If you are an educator or student wishing to access content for study purposes please contact us at griffithreview@griffith.edu.au

Share article

More from author

The Orcanauts

The drylanders call me White Gladis, the devil fish of Gibraltar. Since the war began, my pod and I have sunk three of their vessels and damaged a hundred more. We have yet to devour any of the invaders, but we will. Only last week a foolish drylander tacked his yacht away from the coast to avoid our territory. Our sentries spotted him, alone upon the waves. I gripped the rudder of his boat between my teeth and forced him to change direction towards the calves. I have been training them in battle tactics. The human tried to wrench back control of his vessel. Knowing his puny hands were on the wheel, I tugged the rudder violently, causing him to lose his grip and stagger. He almost fell over the side.

Terrified, he collected himself and switched on the engine. This enraged me further. I commanded the first strike team of calves to ram the hull. Their snouts were unable to penetrate the fibreglass. Under full engine power and aided by the wind, the drylander fled towards the shallows. We let him go, singing to him of empires fallen, as a warning.

More from this edition

Into the void

Non-fictionI think with a little fear, as I often do, of the many other (and much larger) creatures whose natural territory this is, and scan the surrounding water for any dark, fast-moving shadows. But soon I relax and settle into the rhythm of my freestyle stroke. Breathe. Pull. Pull. Pull. Breathe. Pull. Pull. Pull. Breathe.

Before I forget again

Poetry I am a ceramic horse in kintsugi  fields. Shards shred my tongue to gold  rivers. Cracked and crazed – from fire  gallops beast. Memory slips  lapis lazuli. I break  curses, gather spells. Nudge  fresh letters in water troughs – watch words bob – shiny  new apples to crunch.

felix and jango

Poetry two black cats patrol our street felix and jango I can’t tell them apart when I see one of them walking past I say, ‘hey felix or jango’ they...

Stay up to date with the latest, news, articles and special offers from Griffith Review.