An extremely rare discovery in Australia could be the key to learning more about the sea monsters that roamed the Earth hundreds of millions of years ago.
Paleontologists unearthed the first confirmed head and body of a 100 million-year-old prehistoric marine reptile known as an elasmosaur, the Queensland Museum said in a Dec. 6 news release.
During the Cretaceous period, the northeastern region of Australia, now Queensland, was a shallow sea, according to researchers. Because of this, the fossils and remains of marine animals are often found in the region.
Elasmosaurs were part of a group of long-necked reptile called plesiosaurs, paleontologists said. Hundreds of millions of years ago, these creatures co-existed with dinosaurs.
Although fossil discoveries are common in Queensland, the find marks the first time the head and body of an elasmosaur have been found together. Typically, because of the specimen’s long neck, the heads and bodies separate, according to the news release.
A trio of amateur paleontologists, known as the “Rock Chicks,” originally unearthed the massive fossil, CNN reported. Cynthia Prince, her sister and a friend made the discovery at a cattle station in western Queensland in August.
The elasmosaur was 19 feet tall, CNN reported.
Now, a group of researchers with the Queensland Museum Network have collected and transported the creature to the Museum of Tropical Queensland for further inspection.
‘Rosetta Stone of marine paleontology’
Experts are hailing the discovery as a breakthrough that could be critical to learning more about the pre-historic world.
The Queensland Museum said the find is “described as the Rosetta Stone of marine Palaeontology” in a Dec. 6 Facebook post.
Espen Knutser, senior scientist and curator of paleontology for the Queensland Museum Network — and who lead the group of researchers to collect the fossils — said the discovery will allow experts to explore new aspects of the time period.
“It’s gonna tell us a lot about the taxonomy or the species diversity,” he said in a video. “It’ll also teach us about the ecology of these things....what kind of food was this animal feeding on and how was it feeding.”
Plesiosaurs grew up to 43 feet with small triangular heads and long necks that could span up to half of their body, according to National Geographic.
The remains will now undergo several analytical methodologies to learn more, the museum said, noting that it “may hold the key to unraveling the diversity and evolution of marine reptiles in Cretaceous Australia.”