Six years ago, pasture Robert Hacon was driving around his cattle property in the Queensland hinterland when he rode over what he thought was a cow skull.
When he turned his uterus over, on the floor in front of him lay the 1.6-meter jawbone of a Kronosaurus queenslandicus – an 11-meter-long sea creature with a crocodile-like head that lived around 100 million years ago. It turned out to be the most intact Kronosaurus jaw ever found.
A year later, construction workers building the Sydney Tramway to Randwick discovered tens of thousands of spearheads and tools used by the Bidjigal or Gadigal peoples of the Eora Nation, including evidence that they interacted with people from what is now the Hunter Valley.
So what should you do if you come across an indigenous fossil or artifact in your backyard, at the beach, in a local park, on a bush walk, or on a rural property?
You must still inform your town hall or museum, because if it is a rare find, it will contribute to our scientific knowledge.
Sally Hurst, a Masters student in Biological Sciences at Macquarie University, attempts to answer these questions. She has created a Found a Fossil website to educate people on what to do next, who to contact, and what your rights to ownership of the fossil or artifact are.
Department of Biological Sciences Honorary Professor Glenn Brock says the site will potentially engage thousands of people in Australia online who may have found a significant fossil or artifact and are unsure of what to do next.
“This greatly increases our chances of further discoveries ending up in the hands of scientists who recognize their importance,” said Brock, who oversaw Hurst during the project.
The website is part of Hurst’s research which includes a survey of people’s attitudes towards fossils and artefacts across Australia.
âThere is a huge lack of knowledge and information so I saw an opportunity to do something about it,â says Hurst. âI am passionate about paleontology, archeology and also an enthusiastic science communicator and this project combined all of my interests. “
What puzzles Hurst most is that through her website, she invites members of the public to become citizen scientists. She encourages them to photograph, record the GPS position, determine if there are other similar objects nearby, and then report their discovery.
âFossils are really important,â says Hurst. âThey tell us about the evolution and extinction of plant and animal species. They also tell us about our changing environment. We need to understand this to adapt to future changes. Likewise, learning about artifacts deepens our understanding of our common culture and history.
Own the earth, own the fossil
The good news is, if you find a fossil on your private property in NSW, then you own it and you can decide what to do with it, says Hurst. âBut you still need to inform your local council or museum, because if this is a rare find, it will contribute to our scientific knowledge.â
In addition, it is important to report it for preservation purposes. âIf it’s been in the ground for a long time and a thunderstorm or some kind of digging bothers it, and it’s suddenly exposed to air, it could quickly deteriorate. A museum will know how to best take care of it, âshe says.
If you discover the fossil in a national park, on a beach, or on someone else’s private property, you will need to get permission from the landowner to find out what to do next.
Finding a cultural artifact involves similar steps, says Hurst. After growing up on a property in central New South Wales, Hurst knew many farmers who had a box full of Aboriginal stone tools in the back of a cupboard, not knowing who to tell.
“If you find an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander artifact on your property, it does not affect your land tenure at all – you are just encouraged not to disturb it as it is part of the oldest living culture and people. want to interpret it. So the best thing is to inform your local council or your indigenous community.
On its website, Hurst also includes contact details for reporting or donating your find to the Australian Museum and various state museums, as well as guidelines and state cultural heritage sites. It also links you to Fossils Australia to identify your fossil.
To further inform the content of his website, Hurst is surveying students at Macquarie University to find out what they would do if they found a fossil or artifact. Early next year, she will launch an Australia-wide survey as part of her masters project to gather information on what people would do if they found something.
âI hope this project and the website resources will help protect Australia’s natural and cultural heritage for the future,â she said.
Visit Found a Fossil if you’ve found a fossil or artifact and want more information on what to do next.
The article originally appeared on The Lighthouse at Macquarie University. You can read the original article here.