Lying on the ground sifting through rocks and dirt may not seem like fun to everyone, but for a group of intrepid volunteers, it’s a dream come true.
The Australian Opal Center has conducted an annual dinosaur fossil excavation at Lightning Ridge in outback New South Wales.
People traveled from as far away as Western Australia to spend their time sifting through the tailings of opal mines in hopes of finding a valuable fossil.
In other years, excavations even attracted foreigners.
As Timothy Frauenfelder knows, the discovery of a dig can change the course of a life.
“I got here and one of the very first fossils I found was a dinosaur tooth,” he said.
Eight years later, he almost completed his doctoral dissertation and paid tribute to this tooth.
“Basically, I’m just a dinosaur dentist.
“If we have a whole bunch of different teeth, that can tell us how rich the animal species was in the area.”
Mr. Frauenfelder said that more finds awaited the volunteers this year.
“This year [we found] a lot of plant material, quite a lot of mussel shells.
“We also found quite a few small pieces of bone, possibly dinosaur bones, snail bones, and quite a few other pieces.”
According to him, it took only the smallest fragments to detect prehistoric flora and fauna.
“Even from the smallest bits of bone, you can still paint a picture of what that particular animal would have looked like.”
Paleontology student and self-proclaimed “baby dinosaur” Hayden Henderson investigates a sauropod that was discovered near Lightning Ridge.
A team of volunteers conducting the excavation found tiny bone fragments that would eventually be used to complete the puzzle.
He said the bone hunt might be random.
“It’s a bit like gambling, but maybe not that bad.”
It can be painstaking work; the stones were mined from an underground opal mine and then left in a pile, waiting to be sorted by impatient hands.
During the excavations, plant remains, fish jaws and turtle ribs were also found.
For volunteer digger Helen Ward, studying the rocks was second nature.
“I grew up on opals because my mother was a geologist, she studied at the University of Sydney and brought students here.
“Opals have been a part of my life, so when I had the opportunity to come here, I thought, why not?”
It took Miss Ward two days to get from Brisbane to Lightning Ridge, but she said the trip was worth it.
“I picked up what I thought was a bone, but when we got back here, the experts told me it was actually part of a fish jaw.
“He had really cute little marks on the outside of his jaw.
“You know, it’s a thrill to find.”
Organizer, paleontologist and executive director of the Australian Opal Center Jenny Brummall always felt that she had found something special in the city of opal.
“Lightning Ridge is one of the most important mammalian fossil sites in Australia; although we are talking about dinosaurs, we find here fossils of plants, turtles, fish, flying reptiles.”
She said that during the excavation, a small but interesting discovery was made.
“This week we found a tiny yabbie button.
“There are only three places in the world where fossilized yabbie shells have been found – it’s so weird – Texas, Japan and Lightning Ridge.”
And this type of fossil was unique to Australia.
“These are the only opal yabbie buttons in the world,” said Ms Brummall.
“Australia is the only place in the world where dinosaur fossils have been preserved in the form of opal.”
She said the mining fields were worth a lot because of the tailings.
“They are [opalised fossils] are an absolute national treasure.