- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 4, 2009

CANBERRA, Australia | Scientists have confirmed for the first time that Australia was once home to a dinosaur that was big, fast and terrifying, and they’ve named it the Australovenator.

The beast was a 1,100-pound carnivorous predator with three slashing claws on each of its powerful forelimbs that stalked the outback 98 million years ago, researchers said in a report published Friday.

Fossilized remnants of its limb bones, ribs, jaw and fangs were found — along with bones of two other new species of gigantic, long-necked herbivores weighing up to 22 tons — in Queensland state over the past three years.

The discovery, analyzed in a 51-page report published in the peer-reviewed online science journal PLoS ONE, was the first substantial find of large dinosaurs in Australia to be revealed in 28 years.

Paleontologists have described Australia as a new frontier in vertebrate paleontology and an untapped resource in the world’s understanding of the dinosaur age because so few fossils have been found there. This is largely because the relatively flat continent has long been geologically stable. The movement of tectonic plates in other continents has forced layers of rock bearing fossils tens of millions of years old to the surface, making them easier to find.

In the latest Queensland find, paleontologists bulldozed top soil more than 3 feet deep to expose the sandy clay that held the fossils.

The finders nicknamed the 16-foot-long carnivore, Australovenator wintonensis, “Banjo,” after the poet A.B. “Banjo” Paterson who in 1885 penned Australia’s unofficial anthem “Waltzing Matilda” on a sheep ranch near Winton — a cattle town that lies closest to where the dinosaur bones were found. Banjo’s Latin name means “Winton’s Southern Hunter.”

“The cheetah of his time, Banjo was light and agile,” the report’s lead author, Scott Hocknull, a Queensland Museum paleontologist, said.

“He’s Australia’s answer to velociraptor, but many times bigger and more terrifying,” Mr. Hocknull added, referring to the turkey-sized prehistoric predators recreated with artistic license in the “Jurassic Park” movies.

The other two discoveries — 52-foot-long herbivores — were previously unknown types of titanosaur, the largest dinosaurs that ever lived. All three lived in the mid-Cretaceous period, which extended from 145 million years to 65 million years ago.

John Long, a Museum Victoria paleontologist who was not connected with the find, said the last “truly big” dinosaur found in Australia was the partial skeleton of a 30-foot-long herbivore named Muttaburrasaurus, which was found near the Queensland town of Muttaburra in 1981.

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