The country around Dripstone is pretty typical of Central NSW – pasture land with gently rolling hills and patches of bush. Dripstone, as far as I could tell, was just a cluster of small acre properties on a karst (cave country) hill. Hence the name, I suppose.
The grass was long from the summer rains.
It looked enchanting in the late autumn afternoon light, even if it was really hard to walk through for a short, city slicker like me.
I couldn’t help myself, I was trigger happy.
And as I took these shots, the afternoon XPT cruised by in the valley below, back to Sydney. Back home.
Well, that’s the end of our adventure in Central NSW. But don’t despair, I have plenty of places and things to show you yet.
Later in the day we travelled 15 minutes away to Dripstone, to look for more fossils, this time to take home.
We had to look a bit harder among the tall grass for them, but we did find a few things in the end. Like little stromatolites (they are small here, the little circular things).
Corals in different shapes than those at Wellington Caves.
And another block rich in crinoid stems.
There were also caves in the area, although the entrances are so small that no one was willing to climb in.
The limestone around Wellington is Devonian in age, around 390 million years ago. Back then, the area was still under water – a shallow sea. Dinosaurs weren’t to appear for at least another 150 million years. Plants were only starting to grow on land, and were probably very strange-looking. The only land animals were arthropods (insects, crustaceans, spiders) and lung fish with legs.
Most plant and animal life lived in the sea, and in the limestone, we saw a good cross-section of what was around in the ocean.
There were snails and other marine gastropods.
Giant stromatolites formed by micro-organisms (closely related to blue green algae). You can see the layers of sediment they formed.
Block of crinoid stems – remnants of ancient sea lilies.
But mostly, we saw lots and lots of coral. Yes, the ancestors of the coral that form the Great Barrier Reef.
They were literally all over the rocks in places.
The only thing we didn’t see (although there were plenty out there at the time) was fish. I guess I have to go to Canowindra one day to see Devonian fish in abundance.
The proportions of the cave were quite impressive. The stalactites were large and heavy overhead, meaning that they must have formed over hundreds of thousands of years.
There were other interesting formations in the cave that you don’t usually see. We saw lots of evidence of folding.
You have to imagine that these layers were once flat, and that the earth’s forces over time had folded them over each other like pancakes.
I think it’s as impressive a sight as anything in the cave.
I’m back from holidays, and starting where I left off, at Wellington Caves.
We are going into the caves proper for the next couple of posts. Cathedral Cave is the main attraction of the cave system. It is actually only made up of one room, plus a well and an ‘attic’ but the room itself is very impressive.
Look at all the flow stone at the back, like organ pipes. The ceiling is also very high, and so the acoustics are good. Not surprisingly, the space is available for functions – concerts, weddings, etc etc.
Once you gathered together your pile of fossils, how do you know what you have? These students had a guide to what the bones and teeth of various animals looked like to help them.
And it’s also good to have a resident paleontologist nearby to help you identify things. These scientists have been studying bones and teeth of animals for over 30 years, so they know what they are talking about.
The students sorted their finds neatly into groups.
Some of them found some interesting things…
All this sorting helped the paleontologists catalogue what was in the pile, which told us the kinds of animals alive back then.
Looking at the white board at the end of the session, there were a lot of different finds that day.
It goes to show how diverse the fauna was back then – even more so that now, in a way.
That comes to the end of our walk through the Pleistocene age of one million years ago. I’ll be on a blog break for the next two weeks, and will be back with some Devonian fossils from around 400 million years ago!
It was interesting to see paleontologists (albeit students) in action. How do you extract the fossils from this?
When the mine was redug out in the 1990’s, it was already in dirt form, not in rock form. But how to sort the fossils from the dirt?
First you put a pile of ‘dirt’ in a sifter (the metal box).
Then you give it a good wash in the trough.
You lay out what’s left in the sun to dry.
And then collect it, ready for sorting.
Outside, we saw the cave where Mitchell and Rankin found the first diprotodon bones.
But as more bones were discovered, they found bones of creatues that were distinctly reptilian.
There were fossils from a giant lizard, which they named megalania. They were much bigger than present day Komodo dragons, at almost 5 metres in length. We saw a full-size replica in the bush.
But more interesting I think were the Wonambi – giant snakes. Here is a replica at the bottom of a sink hole.
These snakes were estimated at 10 to 11 metres long. We saw some vertebrae that had been collected.
Three vertabrae just fitted into a drawer, and if you think of how a human back bone looks in comparison to its size, then it’s obvious that this snake was very big.
Perhaps this was what the early Aboriginals saw when they first came to Australia? Perhaps this was their Rainbow Serpent?
In fact, there were lots of interesting marsupials around a million years ago, that are now extinct.
Later, we were shown lots of evidence of them. Here is an assortment of different kangaroo jaws.
Teeth from a giant wombat.
Even the front tooth from a palorchestes – a marsupial tapir – that we found on the ground.
Of course, the marsupials weren’t on their own. There were other interesting creatures around at the time too.
The diprotodon might have been big, but by most accounts it was a gentle giant. There were however carnivore marsupials around at the time too, and ones that were bigger than the Devils. The most ferocious was a species called thylacoleo – the marsupial lion.
We saw a replica of a full skeleton, and there were bits and pieces also on display. The animal is likened more to a leopard than a lion, in that it was of similar size, had a powerful jaw and teeth like sheers, and long retractable claws to slash its prey, and scarily, climb trees. It would be the most ferocious drop bear you’d ever see. They were so effective in their hunting that they would prey on the hapless diprotodon and other large herbivores.
Glad this guy isn’t around anymore!