If you haven’t been following my last few posts, I have been discussing my adventures post PhD submission that include participating in a camel expedition into the Simpson Desert (see Gallery). I was lucky enough to be joining the party in charge of investigating megafauna fossils first sighted in 2007. Now in 2014, the scientific party, a bunch of hangers-on (including myself) and 18 camels were off to finally retrieve said fossil, and prepare it for transport to Flinders University for further study. What made this particularly exciting was the species was yet to be identified, and therefore we did not know whether we were collecting a giant wombat-like creature, the Diprotodon, or the giant emu-like creature, Genyornis. But before we could even think about retrieving the fossilised megafauna, we had to get our contemporary megafauna to agree to take us. And trust me, at times it really did feel like a UN style negotiation!
We had a rather rocky start and almost lost Dusty the camel, who wouldn’t stay in his allocated string and then ended up following us, for a distance, until he followed no more. I was so terribly sad at the thought of poor Dusty being out on his own and so very relieved when news arrived that Dusty had been collected on the team’s return along the same track. Obstinate camels aside, the team was plagued with a nasty chesty cold to which many a member succumbed, except yours truly. I am known to be an incredibly unsympathetic nurse, which became very clear when I suggested that one particularly vocal ‘patient’ be left and promptly called him Dusty from then on in. What? They could have collected him on the way back!
With only one of the Dusty’s in tow, three days of walking and many stone tools examined, we finally made it to the site and were able to set up a more permanent camp (well permanent for 5 days) and start the excavation. And that was when I got to see Dippy for the first time. Dippy the Diprotodon (I swear I didn’t name it) was a fully articulated skeleton that had appeared when the side of the Kallakoopah Creek bank eroded away. There has not been any robust chronology associated with the area but our learned palaeontologist, Dr Jillian Garvey, estimated the remains to be between 50,000-100,000 years old. While the discovery of a Genyornis skeleton would have been a very unique and rare find, Dippy was far more intact than what was usually to find, indicating that burial was very quick and the skeleton well-preserved.
It was really wonderful to see how involved the group quickly became, under the direction of Jillian, as they attempted to remove as much as they could, including plastering the skull for transport. It was the same ‘citizen science’ that I had observed on my trip to Winton to the dinosaur dig, and was a wonderful reminder of how the public can be involved in scientific discovery and observation. At a time when we are reading disturbing reports that interest in the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) subjects is drastically waning, the more the public get involved and the more science communication is given importance, the better off we all are. Kelly now gets off soap box.
This expedition was seven years in the planning, delayed in response to the dramatic shifts in climate that the region experiences, known as the ‘boom and the bust’ of the Simpson Desert and Lake Eyre. Discovered just before the ‘boom’, we had to wait until the ‘bust’ before the site became accessible, but the story of this dramatic cycle is for next week. Hope to see you then 🙂