Monthly Meeting, November 6th 2015

The Sorrento Fossil Monster


Zygomaturus – pic from Australian Museum

Speakers at the NHS – David Pickering Palaeontology Collection Manager for the past 10 years at Museums Australia ( Victoria) and David Thomas ‘The Accidental Palaeontologist’ and Sorrento local who walks this beach frequently.

The two Davids told us a marvellous story of discovery and perseverance.

Bone pieces were spotted high up in the ocean beach Bay of Islands rock arch by keen eyed locals in early 2012. Chris and Allan Willox were the first to report them followed two weeks later by David Thomas who, fearing a human body, contacted police.

Museum Paleontologist David Pickering organised a meeting onsite. Another key player in this story is Bruce McFadyen, knowledgeable local Parks Vic Ranger and issuer of permits allowing exploration of the site.

The site was dangerous: access was only via a very steep rock cliff and rock falls from the arch were frequent. More paperwork for OH&S considerations for the workers was essential. Mining engineers had to be called in to advise. A big storm caused a huge rock collapse and new retrieval methods had to be devised. Masses of rock pieces had to be painstakingly examined.

But more and more pieces were identified until the skull (found by David Thomas) and jawbone with teeth proved it was the precious fossil specimen of a rare Zygomaturus.

Zygomaturus skeleton drawing

These large marsupials lived in groups. They had huge cheekbones and a big rubbery nose. This fossil is possibly 2.6 million years old. Small marks of predation can be seen on the pelvic piece – who had attacked this ‘Zygo’?

The audience were fascinated and afterwards clustered to see the actual skull of the ‘Zygo’ that David P. had brought for us and David T’s photos of the site. And we also were shown beautiful fossils of a perfect shortfaced kangaroo jaw recently found at Gunnamatta Beach.

Zygomaturus skull

Zygomaturus Skull

A great night for all … and NHS hopes to have a model of the Zygomaturus on display one day.

Note of interest – David Pickering is particularly adept at extracting minute fossil teeth. He has two extinct animals named after him a Pleistocene marsupial – Palorchestes pickeringi -and a Devonian fish from the Kimberley,  Pickeringia.