In front of you is a cast of the fossil skeleton of a famous Australian dinosaur, Muttaburrasaurus langdoni. It is named after the town of Muttaburra in Queensland, where the fossil was discovered by a farmer, Doug Langdon, in 1963. It is likely that a related species was also living in Lightning Ridge, as similar fossils have been found at that site. This plant-eating dinosaur roamed the earth, probably in herds, in the Early Cretaceous Period, 112–100 million years ago. It was about 7 metres long, 1.2 metres wide, 2.3 metres high at the hips and weighed almost 3 tonnes. Think about Muttaburrasaurus as being about the size of a small adult African elephant including its trunk and tail.
Muttaburrasaurus’ skeleton is positioned in a life-like and active pose. It is shown here walking on all four legs, but was probably able to walk and stand on two legs for short periods, . Let’s start at the right end with the head. The skull is rather flat and probably as long as your body from your waist to your shoulder. It is shaped like a triangle with the wide back of the head narrowing to a blunt rounded snout. On the snout is a hollow bony bump, probably used to make sounds or for display.
Muttaburrasaurus had no front teeth, but its upper and lower jaws were covered with keratin (the same substance that makes fingernails and claws). Muttaburrasaurus did have long rows of tightly packed back teeth forming two continuous shearing blades on each side of the strong jaw. It could eat tough plants, such as ferns, palm-like bushes called cycads and conifer trees like pines.
Moving to the left, the neck is one and a half times the length of the head with pointy bones on top (these are extra attachment points for the strong neck muscles). Under the body are some small rib bones in front of the forelimbs or front legs. These legs look strong – each front leg has a metre long humerus bone and two bones in the lower leg (the same as our radius and ulna in our lower arms), each as long as your whole arm. Below these are feet and toes ending in 5 blunt claws. The 3 middle ones are a wide as half a hand and as long as a whole hand.
The backbone sweeps up to where the pelvis and back legs are and here each separate vertebra is as round as a person’s thigh. The back legs are much larger than the front legs, so it is easy to imagine Muttaburrasaurus standing up on its back legs to reach trees. There are only 3 blunt-clawed toes on the back legs, and each one is as long as half an arm. This skeleton looks like it is walking as one of its back legs is stretched behind with its foot on tiptoe.
Behind the hip bones, which are halfway along the whole length of the dinosaur, about 40 vertebrae gradually become smaller until they form the tip of the tail. Each vertebra has a bony part pointing upwards, for the strong tail muscles to attach.