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Lightning Ridge Fossil Dig New South Wales, Australia

Dr. Phil Bell
Paleontologist and Dinosaur Expert

University of New England, Armidale

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  1. What makes your site significant?
    Lightning Ridge is the only site in NSW and one of only a handful of localities in Australia that produces dinosaurs. It is the only place in the world that routinely preserves terrestrial animal bones - like dinosaurs - in opal.  

  2. What has been most surprising about your discoveries at this location?
    Virtually every fossil is tiny, usually less than a couple of centimetres in length, but even so, we have a remarkably detailed snapshot of the entire fauna, from fish to giant sauropod dinosaurs.

  3. What are your current research objectives at your site? 
    Right now we're trying to unravel the relationship between fossils found at Lightning Ridge to those found further north at Surat (southeast Queensland). They both produce dinosaurs and other animals and come from the same rock formation but represent different ancient environments and, apparently, ecosystems.

  4. What was most important or rewarding find at this site?
    The discovery of a big carnivorous dinosaur, which we nicknamed 'Lightning Claw' in 2014, was very cool. At the time, it was one of the oldest of a group called megaraptorids that are known predominantly from Argentina and Australia. 'Lightning Claw' provided important evidence that that group actually originated in Australia, which had not been advocated for any dinosaur group at that time.

All the digs featured on Ancient Odysseys are non-profits and rely upon visitors and donations to continue their important scientific work. The Australian Opal Centre is seeking benefactors for a new facility to house its public collection, scientific and cultural activities. Please consider offering your support if you would like to support this organization's mission.

Click here to support the Australian Opal Centre

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Fossils found:   
Opalised fossils of dinosaurs like Fostoria and Weewarrasaurus, Mesozoic mammals and pterosaurs, crocodiles,  plesiosaurs, turtles, fish, crayfish, mollusks and plants
Period: Cretaceous
Formation: Griman Creek

Description:

 

100 million years ago, dinosaurs roamed the lands around a great Australian inland sea. Giant sauropods, ferocious theropods and diminutive ornithopods shared this world with everything from crocodiles and turtles to tiny mammals, yabbies and snails. Lightning Ridge, once a forested plain near this ancient sea, is famed for dazzling opal and one of Australia’s most important dinosaur fossil sites, containing fossils that are opalised.

 

Searching for opalised fossils is a privilege usually available only to opal miners and scientists. You can share these incredible moments of discovery by joining the Australian Opal Centre and Australian Geographic Society on their search for fossils on Yuwaalaraay country, in the Lightning Ridge opal fields.

Dig volunteers play a huge part in the discovery process at Lightning Ridge and in the past few years, volunteers have discovered the first ever opalised ankylosaur plate, tiny bones from baby dinosaurs and megaraptorid theropod teeth. Anything found is added to the public collection of the Australian Opal Centre and prepared for scientific study, display and publication. Best of all, volunteers help contribute to the world’s most diverse collection of rare opalised fossils, and any fossils you find will be labelled with the name of their discoverer - you!

What to expect:

 

Unlike other paleontology digs, the work done during the Lightning Ridge Fossil Dig does not require rock hammers and jacketing. Because Lightning Ridge's underground opal mines are the source of the fossils, the miners themselves excavate the Early Cretaceous sediments, in their search for opal. The Australian Opal Centre (AOC) secures hard-to-find material that although discarded by the miners, might still produce rare opalised fossils, and saves it for Fossil Dig participants to sort through under expert guidance. The Dig is based at the AOC's Black Opal Heritage Shed, with field trips providing further eye-opening insights and opportunities for discovery.

 

Each day the program starts between 8.30 and 9am, with a variety of activities including:

  • Learn about opalised fossils and how to distinguish them from geological specimens

  • Enjoy special hands-on access to opalised fossils from the AOC collection

  • Process and sort through fossil-rich claystones

  • Search for opalised plant and animal fossils at special sites

  • Meet and learn from some of the world's most experienced and keen-eyed fossil and opal hunters

  • Mend, reassemble or prepare fossils

  • Learn techniques for casting and moulding

  • Attend fascinating lectures on opals, opal mining, opalised fossils and dinosaur hunting

  • Experience an underground opal mine

  • Contribute to science and to the collaborative effort of opal miners and scientists to discover and preserve opalised fossils

An enjoyable evening program is also included.

What's Included in the cost:

The price includes all daytime and evening activities, morning and afternoon teas, lunches, most evening meals and a year’s membership to the Australian Opal Centre. Your fee supports scientific programs of the Australian Opal Centre and Australian Geographic Society.

 

Accommodation and transport are not included in the cost and you must book your own accommodations in Lightning Ridge.

What to bring:

The Australian Opal Centre will provide everything you need to search for fossils during the Dig. If you have a favorite geology pick, magnifying visor or field notebook you’re welcome to bring it.

 

For several hours each day, you’ll be working in open areas with little shade and temperatures that can exceed 30°C (about 90°F).

 

You should bring:

  • Sunscreen

  • Hat and sunglasses

  • Sturdy closed footwear

  • Clothes that can get dirty including a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt

  • Warm clothes for cool mornings and cold evenings

  • Water bottle

  • Insect repellent

  • Flashlight and batteries

  • Wet weather gear (just in case)

  • Swimsuit – for warming up in the hot artesian baths   

  • Optional: a mat or cushion to kneel or lie on while specking for fossils

2022 Dates
August 15-20
August 22-27 for return participants only
Limited to 20 participants


$2,200 AU

$500 deposit due by June 30

Clicking the above link will take you directly 
to this dig's booking page

18+

Participation is subject to availability and is at the full discretion of the dig location. Prices and dates dates subject to change.