Jared Archibald had been wandering via arid nation for hours when he lastly laid eyes on it.
A small sequence of drill holes in a ridge — left there 16 years in the past — informed him he had discovered place he’d been on the lookout for.
The Bullock Creek Fossil Web site is one among about three main vertebrate fossil websites within the Northern Territory, however its distant location means it has not been absolutely explored.
It’s perched on the northern tip of the distant Tanami Desert, south-west of Darwin.
The positioning is small; Mr Archibald estimates about eight websites comprise bone, with the furthest being about 500 metres aside, however to most eyes it is all simply parched, arid terrain riddled with historical limestone.
Even to Mr Archibald, who was there when the Museum and Artwork Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) final visited, the nation regarded related sufficient to ship him wandering for hours.
“It is very nondescript and unremarkable,” he stated.
“You may wander round there for weeks and never discover something, however as soon as you discover the precise facet, you are on it.”
Find the fossils: this is nondescript, unremarkable country, according to Mr Archibald. (Supplied: Jared Archibald.)
Beneath this outcrop, preserved in onerous limestone, lies a palaeontologist’s treasure chest.
Uncommon crocs and snakes sought
When MAGNT scientists first visited throughout 5 days in September 2002, they have been searching for the stays of three sorts of animals.
“One is a kind of crocodile that is solely discovered there and nowhere else on the planet,” Mr Archibald informed ABC Radio Darwin’s Liz Trevaskis.
Mr Archibald and Dr Yates inspect split limestone for evidence of fossils. (Supplied: Jared Archibald)
The others have been a cassowary which will have as soon as roamed the Northern Territory and, remarkably, an enormous snake with legs.
“So we have this unusual hip bone and I’ve a speculation that the hip bone truly belongs to a snake,” stated Dr Adam Yates, the museum’s senior curator of earth sciences.
“Which may sound completely loopy, however we do know that very, very primitive snakes from means again within the age of dinosaurs had legs.”
“Little or no legs, but it surely had legs,” Mr Archibald stated.
This fossilised bone was exposed on the surface of some limestone. (Supplied: Jared Archibald)
Tonne of rock hauled to Alice Springs
Following the expedition, the MAGNT researchers shipped a tonne of limestone, most of it in 50 or 60-kilogram items, again to Alice Springs.
Discovering the items rock that had an opportunity of containing fossils was no straightforward job.
“Anybody that is been to limestone nation is aware of it is extraordinarily sharp,” Mr Archibald stated.
“It can lower you to items.
“However you are wandering over all of that on the lookout for bone protruding, like fossils truly protruding of the rock.
“The fossil bone is definitely more durable than limestone and in order it weathers, it stands out extra. You may see that.”
Quarried limestone is trimmed to a size manageable for Dr Yates’ small team. (Supplied: Jared Archibald)
Rock dissolved in acid
Even then, the researchers do not know what else the limestone may comprise.
To seek out out, the cuttings will quickly be transported to the city’s Megafauna Central museum and submerged in acid.
Jared Archibald recently returned to the Tanami Desert site for the first time in 16 years. (ABC Radio Darwin: Jesse Thompson)
“Principally, we work on the precept that the limestone — though it’s extremely, very onerous, like concrete — could be very vulnerable to assault from acid,” Dr Yates stated.
The acid, which is roughly as weak as vinegar, dissolves the limestone however would not harm the bones.
Accordingly, Dr Yates predicts it’s going to take a couple of month to eat away the massive blocks so they might reap the rewards of their work.
However even then, there isn’t any assure that the limestone will dissolve away to show any explicit artefact.
“Typically we now have a clue,” Dr Yates stated
“Sometimes, when [the limestone is] damaged via, we are able to see a form — a damaged part via a bone — that we are able to recognise.”
For now, they wait.
In search of one thing that might be nothing
Regardless of the wealthy potential of fossils on the Bullock Creek website, the researchers have actually solely touched the floor.
The best-to-collect rocks — what Dr Yates calls the low-hanging fruit — have been picked up, however there could also be many extra fossils hiding deeper within the hills.
“We all know that as a result of we have discovered little bits, tantalising items, that point out there are all types of animals there that we would desperately like to seek out extra of.”
Comparative anatomy will assist them decide what species the fossils from this journey belonged to.
As an example, the skeleton of a cassowary just lately killed on the street close to Tully in Far North Queensland shall be in contrast with bones discovered at Bullock Creek.
“We’ve got some leg bones that point out there may be most likely a cassowary within the rocks there,” Dr Yates continued.
“It is fairly thrilling as a result of no cassowary has ever been discovered within the Northern Territory.”
This horned turtle skull is a plaster replica, but the Tanami Desert site is the only place in the Northern Territory where one has been found. (ABC Radio Darwin: Jesse Thompson)
The hope of updating historical past books with such a discovery is what retains these males wanting within the unforgiving desert warmth.
“The possibility that that subsequent outcrop of rock, that subsequent set of boulders you take a look at has some absolute gem that is going to make the newspapers — that is what drives you ahead and retains you going,” Dr Yates stated.