Research website of Dr Gilbert Price

Archives for May 2018

The lengths (and depths) one goes to find fossils

There’s nothing better than finding fossils, right?! Just knowing that your eyes are the first to see something in hundreds, thousands, or millions of years is quite a thrill in itself. But how far, or more specifically, how deep would YOU go to find fossils?

Climbing out of a 22 metre deep cave

Climbing out of a 22 metre deep cave

I’m just back from a quick fieldtrip to the caves of the Manning River Karst Area of eastern New South Wales. The work is in partnership with new colleagues from the Newcastle & Hunter Valley Speleological Society, plus some old mates from the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History in Winton, Queensland.

On a previous trip, the Newcastle guys noticed some interesting fossil specimens in the dark, murky depths of a cave in the region. They subsequently passed the information to the gang from Winton, and through the new partnership, I became involved in the work.

Dimiti from the Australian Age of Dinosaurs abseiling into a cave

Dimiti Bambrick from the Australian Age of Dinosaurs abseiling into a cave

To keep it brief, the fieldtrip was a great success, but it certainly wasn’t easy. The caves in the region occur in Devonian limestone, dating to some 380-ish million years old. The caves themselves are a lot more recent, but are challenging to work in considering that the limestone has been somewhat distorted as a result of geological processes.

Sedimentary rocks are usually layered down horizontally (or so the Law of Horizontality supposes). However, the limestone that we visited has been pushed up such that the bedding layers are almost vertical. That’s great if you want to develop caves along the bedding planes of the limestone, but it makes for hard work to enter the caves in search of fossils.

Julien Louys from Griffith University looking for fossils underground

Julien Louys from Griffith University looking for fossils underground

Almost every cave in the region requires an abseil in, some in the order of 20+ metres.

Personally, I’m a tad fearful of heights, but combine your standard abseil with the dark, squeezy, murky depths of a cave, and you can probably appreciate the challenges involved in searching for fossils in caves. Just check-out the video below!

The caves essentially act as massive, natural pitfall traps. Unwary animals fall in, and if they can’t get out, they die and become part of the cave’s fossil record. Most of the fossilised remains we found on the trip comprised the skeletons of marsupials such as kangaroos and wombats.

The work, while extremely challenging, was fascinating. We’ve found some interesting fossils too, many of which will be the focus of a future blog post (pending the writing-up of the results). In the meantime, enjoy the above video of the trip, as filmed from a Go-Pro camera strapped to my helmet.

Special thanks to the Newcastle and Hunter Valley Speleological Society and the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum for this wonderful fieldtrip.