CQUni researchers find 45-million-year-old fossils in Gladstone area

Published:01 March 2018

CQUni researchers Dr Andrew Hammond, Dr Anita Milroy and Queensland Museum Head of Geosciences Dr Andrew Rozefelds recently discovered 45 million-year-old fossils the Gladstone area, including the extremely rare 'horsehair'.

Two CQUniversity-trained geoscientists have assisted in the discovery of a new fossil site in the Gladstone area as part of a Queensland Museum-led research project.

CQUni Senior Lecturer Geosciences Dr Andrew Hammond, Central Highlands Science Centre researcher Dr Anita Milroy and Queensland Museum Head of Geosciences Dr Andrew Rozefelds have found fossilised insects and rainforest flora, dating back 45 million years – including what appears to be the first evidence of horsetails (Equistetales).

Dr Andrew Rozefelds, of the Queensland Museum said: “The last thing we expected to find was a ‘horsetail."

“Horsetails are a group of plants that were thought to have become extinct in Australia 95 million years ago, although living relatives still exist in the Northern Hemisphere.

“The new fossil site is estimated to be 45 million years old based on data from fossil pollen and geological field studies. I am very excited about the potential for more really interesting studies throughout this, as yet, poorly studied region”.

Dr Milroy, who discovered the horsetails at the deposit, using a USB microscope, said it was an extremely rare find.

“Unusual discoveries might be expected in this area because a lot of the fossil deposit has never been studied. Not only is it a rare event for a plant to become fossilised, but that to be able to spot such a tiny delicate specimen is also a one in a million event,” she said.

These tiny, fragile specimens have been photographed in the field using a USB microscope and a PC. A more detailed study awaits, however the researchers were keen to share these exciting finds with the local community.

Dr Hammond said the geological history of the area where the fossils were found was complex and showed signs of recent faulting.

“The fossils were deposited in a graben (which is like a small rift valley) 18 km long and up to 4.5km wide and sediments approaching a kilometre in depth. These faulted blocks formed at a time when Australia was still connected to Antarctica and was at a higher palaeo latitude (which means Australia was further south than what it is now),” he said.

“Understanding the geology and how the sediments were deposited helps researchers interpret the palaeoecology of the time.”

Some of the fossils will be on display at the World Science Festival in Gladstone this weekend. The three researchers will be attending and keen to share their discovery with the public.