Advanced nuclear and synchrotron imaging has confirmed that a 93-million-year-old crocodile found in Central Queensland devoured a juvenile dinosaur based on remains found in the fossilised stomach contents.
The discovery of the fossils in 2010 was made by the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum (QLD) in association with the University of New England, who are publishing their research in the journal Gondwana Research.
The research was carried out by a large team led by Dr Matt White of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum and the University of New England.
The crocodile Confractosuchus sauroktonos, which translates as ‘the broken crocodile dinosaur killer’ was about 2 to 2.5 metres in length. ‘Broken’ refers to the fact that the crocodile was found in a massive, shattered boulder.
Early neutron imaging scans of one rock fragment from the boulder detected bones of the small chicken-sized juvenile dinosaur in the gut, an ornithopod that has not yet been formally identified by species.
Senior Instrument Scientist Dr Joseph Bevitt explained that the dinosaur bones were entirely embedded within the dense ironstone rock and were serendipitously discovered when the sample was exposed to the penetrative power of neutrons at ANSTO.
Dingo, Australia’s only neutron imaging instrument, can be used to produce two and three-dimensional images of a solid object and reveal concealed features within it.
“In the initial scan in 2015, I spotted a buried bone in there that looked like a chicken bone with a hook on it and thought straight away that it was a dinosaur,” explained Dr Bevitt.
“Human eyes had never seen it previously, as it was, and still is, totally encased in rock.”
The finding led to further, high-resolution scans using Dingo and the synchrotron X-ray Imaging and Medical Beamline over a number of years.
Read more on the ANSTO website
Image: Dr Joseph Bevitt and Dr Matt White with the sample on the Imaging and Medical beamline at ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron