On our inaugural Arid Rivers Expedition in 2007, we located many megafauna fossil sites in addition to documenting hundreds of stone artefacts from aboriginal occupation. One of the locations we visited (which had been discovered on an Outback Camel Company commercial expedition in 2006) was an extensive fossil site that we believed to be the large flightless bird Genyornis (below). Many large bones were in situ, and so in 2014 we mounted a second expedition with the objective of collecting the fossil for further study.
We had originally planned to go back in 2009 however the major floods of that year and in 2010 prevented us from getting to much of the eastern and southern Simpson Desert. The area was completely submerged in 2009 and partly submerged in 2010. An aerial inspection in late 2009 revealed that many more bones had been uncovered by the flood waters, compared to our 2007 observations. So in 2014 we were full of anticipation of what we might find.
And it turned out that what we did find was completely unexpected.
Dr Aaron Camens from Flinders University explains:
"The diprotodontid is an animal called Nototherium inerme and is one of the, if not the rarest and least understood of the diprotodontids from anywhere in the fossil record.
This find represents the first time that a specimen with all its teeth has been found and they’re in great condition so we’ll be able to learn a lot about its evolution and where it fits in from this. It also has large cheek flanges (called masseteric processes) telling us that it had very powerful jaw musculature but also that they may have been used as some kind of display feature. Due to these large flanges, the face would have been relatively wide and flat with the eyes pointing forward, more similar to a panda than to the other diprotodontids that were around at the time. The skeleton that goes along with the skull also represents the first postcranial material that we’re able to say definitely belongs to Nototherium so there should also be some interesting stuff coming out there.
At this stage we have absolutely no idea how old the specimen is, without a close look at the geology and some sampling for OSL dating it’s pretty much anyone’s guess at the moment. The age could potentially range from about 100,000 years old up to a couple of million, with a higher probability that it’s at the younger end of the spectrum."
Primary Expedition Purpose
The primary purpose of this survey expedition is to revisit the 2014 site with a view to extract any remains for further study. As previously noted above, the extensive flooding along the creek in the winter of 2019 may have revealed more bones belonging to inermes, or perhaps if we are lucky, an entirely new site altogether.
So the secondary focus will be to explore a large transect of creek bank for more fossil deposits that may have been uncovered in the 2019 floods. This expedition also forms part of the Songlines & Shared Journeys program.
Our palaeontologist on the expedition will be Dr Aaron Camens from Flinders University in Adelaide.
Please note that the decision to extract more fossil segments will not be made until Dr Camens inspects the site. Any extraction will be quite an extensive task, and you will be an active member of the excavation team, working under the supervision of Dr Camens. We will then carry the fossil out of the desert. From a historical perspective, if we do decide to extract more fossils (or any other sites that we may locate), it would be only the second time since the early 1900s that a megafauna fossil has been carried by camel team from this part of the Simpson Desert. That alone, makes this expedition truly an historical event!