Finding Opalized Dinosaur Bones

Artist's reconstruction of Fostoria dhimbangunmal, a newly described iguanodontian dinosaur. (James Kuether.)

Dinosaur Bones Shimmering With Opal Reveal a New Species in Australia

by Gemma Conroy

Three decades ago, opal miner Bob Foster was getting frustrated while digging around in his mining field just outside of Lightning Ridge, a dust-swept town in outback New South Wales. Foster and his family spent hours a day searching for a glimmer of rainbow-shaded gems embedded in the rocks 40 feet underground. But all they found were a bunch of dinosaur bones.

“We would see these things that looked like horses,” says Foster. “Then we would just smash them up to see if there were any opals inside.”

But there was something strange about the growing collection of bones accumulating in Foster’s living room. Piling the bones into two suitcases, Foster took a 450-mile train ride to the Australian Museum in Sydney. When museum curator Alex Ritchie examined Foster’s bone collection dumped on his desk, he recognized them for what they were and knew immediately that an expedition to the opal miners site, called the “Sheepyard,” was in order.

The excavation team wasn’t disappointed. In 1984, they hauled out the most complete dinosaur skeleton ever found in New South Wales. The bones, which were encrusted with sparkling opal, were taken back to the Australian Museum for public display.

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