About 92 million years ago, “Cooper” got stuck in the mud. Trash sealed the fate of the gigantic long-necked leaf-eating dinosaur, hiding its bones until 2007, when parts of the beast were unearthed, excavated under a cattle and sheep station near the small Australian town of Eromanga, with a population of 119. in southwest Queensland.
After 14 years of painstaking research and analysis, the gigantic sauropod specimen, known for its leg and hip bones, is being officially described and named by its discoverers for the first time. The nickname, Cooper, is out.
Friends, it’s time to meet Australotitan cooperensis, a titanosaur that dominated the earth during the Cretaceous period, some 92 million to 96 million years ago. The name Australotitan means “titan of the south” and cooperensis represents the area where the fossil was discovered.
The holotype specimen – that is, the specimen used to describe this new species – is detailed in an article, published in PeerJ magazine on Monday, by researchers from Australia’s Queensland Museum and the Eromanga Museum of Natural History.
“This new titanosaur is Australia’s largest dinosaur represented by osteological remains,” said Robyn Mackenzie, paleontologist at the Eromanga Museum of Natural History.
For years, the research team slowly excavated Cooper’s fossil pieces and analyzed them to better understand the gigantic creature. They discovered a raft of different bones and bone fragments from the Titan’s legs and hip.
With the help of 3D computer analysis, the team began to unravel Cooper’s story and make estimates of its size, length, and mass.
“The 3D scans we created allowed me to transport thousands of kilos of dinosaur bones on a 7kg laptop,” said Scott Hocknull, a paleontologist at the Museum of Queensland who helped unearth Cooper.
Titanic could be an understatement.
At nearly 100 feet long, Cooper is roughly the length of an Airbus A318 airliner and outshines monsters. the tallest giraffe that ever lived, which, in its entirety, would have reached up to Cooper’s hip. Imagine how much extra height Cooper gets with that neck! Based on other sauropod measurements, Cooper likely weighed nearly 70 tons, about 10 times more than an African elephant. This places it in the top 5 heaviest sauropods ever discovered and in the top 15 by length.
The bones also suggested that after Cooper found his fate in the mud, other sauropods trampled on his bones. A potentially grim ending.
To ensure they had found an entirely new species, the team also compared the bones to those of previously described sauropods from the location, Wintonotitan, Diamantinasaurus, and Savannasaurus, which Hocknull and others have unearthed and published in the last decade. The subtle differences in the bones of these creatures show how Australotitan differs from the other titanosaurs.
The find’s location, near Eromanga, has become something of a hotspot for dinosaur discoveries in Australia. In 2004, Robyn’s son Sandy found an unusual stone and tossed it into the bottom of his ute. Eventually his father took it to the museum for analysis and it was confirmed as a dinosaur fossil. But that was just the beginning.
“The discovery of Australia’s largest dinosaur was totally unexpected and, as it turned out, was just the tip of the iceberg of numerous major dinosaur discoveries that have occurred since then,” said Robyn Mackenzie. Mackenzie and her family were able to establish the Eromanga Museum of Natural History, which now proudly displays Cooper, on the back of the find.
The team has located several other specimens of titanosaurs, but has not yet been able to say if they are other Australottans or other species. But the excavations will continue in the land of the giants.