It’s not often you turn over a rock and find a fascinating fossil, but that’s something that is becoming a habit for RMIT biology and biotechnology student Paul Ter.
Ter, a Master of Science (Applied Biology and Biotechnology) student whose focus is palaeontology, did just that on a recent trip to north-western Queensland – making headlines in the process.
While working on his research, Ter was in the Julia Creek area visiting a remote cattle station, working in partnership with the local council when he made his discovery.
“On the underside of the rock was the fossil of an oyster, with a school of small fish trapped inside,” he said.
“The fish must have been having a feed, when they were covered in silt that over 95 million years hardened into rock.
“Over that time, what had been a shallow sea became the black soil plain you see there today.”
It’s not the first time he’s found something in the area. On a visit last year, he found a dinosaur head out on the plain.
Ter is currently writing up his findings for his Master thesis.
Moving to palaeontology was a natural progression from environmental science and a fascination with ancient ecosystems or palaeoecology, with a particular interest in waterways.
This isn’t the first time Ter has found and identified new fossils just by observing the landscape around him.
In 2012, along with his research supervisor Professor John Buckeridge, he identified and named Ophiomorpha beaumarisensis, the burrow left by an ancient saltwater yabby species native to the Melbourne area, which has modern-day relatives living in Darwin.
And it’s the smaller finds that provide the greatest evidence for what life was really like so long ago.
“Like every small boy, I was interested in dinosaurs, but you can learn more from a small invertebrate about the ecology of an area, than you can from a large predator.”
Story: Louise Handran