A dinosaur named Elliott proves a giant of a find

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The Independent Online

The biggest dinosaur ever found in Australia has been unearthed on a sheep farm in Queensland, and may prove to be a unique native sauropod.

Elliott, as the collection of fossilised bones discovered near Winton, in western Queensland, has been nicknamed, is believed to have been 29ft (9m) tall and up to 69ft (21m) long, weighing up to 30 tonnes, the equivalent of six elephants.

A farmer came across part of his thigh bone after heavy rains washed away topsoil on his property in 1999. Palaeontologists visited the farm in June to inspect the bone, which was on show in the farmer's house. They have since found bones spread across a 2.4-mile radius of land.

Sauropods, which lived 95 million years ago, were the giants of the dinosaur world. They were four-legged herbivores characterised by extremely long necks and tails and disproportionately small heads. Elliott was longer than a bus and tall enough to look through the window of a second-storey building. His thigh bone alone is the size of large fridge.

Until now, Australia's sauropods were believed to have belonged to a group that spread through the ancient super continent of Gondwana, which incorporated South America, Africa, India, Australia and Antarctica. But Steve Salisbury, a palaeontologist from the Queensland Museum, said Elliott may have been from a unique Australian group. "I've already noticed a few differences, and it could be that we are looking at a new type of sauropod," he said. "It's quite exciting."

Scientists have so far unearthed only about 5 per cent of Elliott, including a femur, several back bones, pieces of rib and parts of one foot. They are confident that they can recover most of the skeleton and believe that some of the smaller, fragile parts, such as the skull, could be buried deep underground. A major excavation is planned for next year. "It could turn out to be the most complete sauropod found in Australia, as well as the largest dinosaur we've found," Mr Salisbury said.

Ian Galloway, director of the Queensland Museum, said it would take up to five years to extract another 500 bones that make up the full skeleton.

The precise location where Elliott, named after a member of the farmer's family, was found, is being kept secret in case it attracts vandals and fossil hunters.