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The Paleo Lab – Part 2

The paleontology lab processes fossils large, like this diprotodon skull that’s almost a metre in length…

Riversleigh Notes visit to the paleo lab

To microscopic fossils from small marsupials or bats – these are micro-bat skulls.

Riversleigh Notes visit to the paleo lab

Everything needs to be sieved…

Riversleigh Notes visit to the paleo lab

Sorted (sometimes via microscope, as with these tiny teeth and jaws)…

Riversleigh Notes visit to the paleo lab

And then classified. This generally involves comparing the fossils to known species. Teeth are the most useful fossils for classification as they are unique for every species.

This is the lower jaw of a small marsupial species, similar to a kangaroo.

Riversleigh Notes visit to the paleo lab

And this is another diprotodon jaw, but for a much smaller species as it fits in a 10 x 10cm box.

Riversleigh Notes visit to the paleo lab

These fossils may then be formally described as part of university research. The best go to university or museum collections. It’s this kind of research that helps paint a picture of what ancient Australia was like thousands and millions of years ago.

The Paleo Lab – Part 1

It’s been over 4 years since I made the field trip to the fossil sites of Riversleigh in North West Queensland. Back then, I helped the research team search for potential fossils in the limestone. The more bone-rich chunks of limestone were then bagged and sent to the University of New South Wales for further analysis.

It’s only last September that I had the opportunity to visit the paleontology labs at the university. And here are some of those bags of limestone!

Riversleigh Notes visit to the paleo lab

And the limestone chunks themselves – with the bone chunks marked out.

Riversleigh Notes visit to the paleo lab

Some of the fossil chunks can get quite large. All of this excess rock and dirt needs to be dissolved or washed away to reveal the fossils themselves.

Riversleigh Notes visit to the paleo lab

To extract the fossils the rock chunks are immersed in a weak acid solution, similar in strength to vinegar. When limestone is placed in acid, the limestone dissolves, releasing carbon dioxide – that’s what’s bubbling away there.

Riversleigh Notes visit to the paleo lab

Here’s what happens after a soak or two. Obviously, this is a process that needs to be repeated many times until the fossils are released, hence there were many, many tubs all over the lab.

Riversleigh Notes visit to the paleo lab