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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Digging into dinosaur discoveries

A Tyrannosaurus Rex “lived fast and died young”, with the oldest ever discovered believed to be about 30 years old. 

That’s one of the many facts that Lake Macquarie’s Michael Dawson can share about dinosaurs. 

The paleo collector, who has always been obsessed with these creatures, says it all started over some collectible cards. 

“I discovered them when I was about six and I couldn’t believe it,” he says.

“My eyes rolled back into my head and I’ve been into them ever since. I read every book I could on them but there weren’t many books back in the day, unlike now.”

In the early 1980s, Michael began his collection of fossils and dinosaur casts. The process to obtain his first item involved a museum train and a lot of begging. 

“The first cast I got was from the Australian Museum,” he says. “The museum train was in Newcastle and I was working as a photographer and was sent down to get a picture.

“In the case there was an Allosaurus claw cast and I got onto [the team at] the Australian Museum and pleaded, begged, and badgered until [they] did one for me and then I did a cast with that and built it up from there.” 

Since that moment, Michael’s collection has grown to the point where items are overflowing from his house.  

“I am sidestepping over everything,” he says. “It’s gotten so big because I started swapping with other collectors and casting specimens and buying stuff from other museums and then I got involved with the National Dinosaur Museum in Canberra and helped set that up.”

On the back of two recent discoveries in Chile and Argentina, Michael said it was exciting to think about what else could be found.

“Palaeontology is interesting because it is the study of fossils but they are always discovering new ones, so it is really an ongoing science,” he said.

“You think you know all about it then something comes along and turns it on its head – we’ll never know [every dinosaur].

“The opportunity for an animal to fossilise is very rare, it has to be under unusual conditions for it to happen and then you have to find them.”

In 2012, the remains of an unidentified dinosaur were found in Argentina but it was revealed in January 2021 that it could have been the biggest dinosaur to walk the Earth.

The unnamed titanosaur is believed to be a sauropod (herbivorous dinosaur). Its weight is still being debated, with early estimates claiming it may be more than 70 tonnes.

Another discovery, the Chilesaurus, was named in 2015 after being discovered 11 years earlier in Chile.

It was such an important find for the field because it is widely thought that the herbivorous dinosaur evolved from carnivorous ancestors, meaning it could be a missing link between the two.

Michael regularly displays his collection through exhibits with Lake Macquarie City Council and others around the state. 

He believes the allure of dinosaurs comes from the fact they are “real life dragons”. His favourite is what he calls a “no nonsense dinosaur”.

“I’d say an Allosaurus is my favourite,” he said. “It’s not as well known as the T-Rex but some Allosauruses got as big as them.

“They were pack hunters, it was the top predator of the Jurassic period and you did not mess with it.”

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