Old Bones Bring New Life to Aussie Town
Rob Ievers had just finished a cattle roundup on his northwest Queensland ranch when his brother, Ian, noticed what he thought was a tree root protruding in a gully.
That chance encounter a decade ago has led Ievers into a sideline--dinosaurs.
“Ian snapped it off, and when we looked closely at it we realized it was a jaw of fossilized stone, with a row of teeth encased in it,” Ievers recalls.
“When we went back to look and saw there was more, we began digging and found an entire head. We knew then what we’d found was very different.”
The Ievers brothers were amazed to learn the large head belonged to a 100-million-year-old marine reptile called a pliosaur, which swam the ancient inland sea.
With assistance from the Queensland Museum, the entire pliosaur was dug out. Measuring more than 12 feet long, it was unearthed almost intact, with its flippers outstretched.
“When things from the inland sea died, they sank to the bottom of the ocean, developed putrefaction gases, then rose to the top,” Ievers explains. “Through the natural process of rotting, other animals would have fed off them and bits and pieces would have fallen off, so usually you would only find a small piece of these huge animals as fossils.
“But when this pliosaur was uncovered it was almost like it had died yesterday--it was 96% complete. The chances of finding it whole was like winning the lottery.”
Although they found it 10 years ago, the “world’s best pliosaur” has been on public display only for three years, since Ievers opened the Marine Fossil Museum in Richmond, 300 miles west of Townsville.
He decided to establish the museum soon after finding the pliosaur. After persuading the town council to buy the old movie theater to house the museum, he began a fund-raising campaign among his neighbors as well as seeking sponsorship from local businesses.
Ievers claims his museum has the most comprehensive display of inland sea reptiles anywhere in Australia.
Just three months after finding the pliosaur, dubbed the “Ievers crocodile” because its head resembles a croc’s, the Ievers brothers made another significant discovery.
Under about six inches of soil in a 4,000-acre sheep paddock, they found an almost complete ankylosaurus.
That creature, which is 80% complete, is also on display at the museum. Widely considered Australia’s best-preserved dinosaur, its skin and armor are still visible.
The museum covers the period when a vast inland sea covered northwestern Queensland. Other fossil displays include squid, fish, shells, turtles and the swimming reptiles known as ichthyosaurus and woolungasaurus.
Ievers still has his cattle ranch but now spends three days a week running the museum. Raised in Richmond, he says it is rewarding to see his hometown becoming a tourist stop because of the museum.
“Richmond is one of the richest areas in Australia for fossils ,” he says. " I go out for picnics with the family on weekends, and we always find something.”