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Eric, the Opalized Pleisosaur

>From "The Fossils Collector", May 1993
"Eric", The Opalized Dinosaur

Nicknamed "Eric", the early Cretaceous fossil pleisosaur was discovered
in mid-1987 by an opal miner at Coober Pedy, South Australia.  In 1988,
the remains were brougt to Sydney by an opal dealer who enlisted the
assistance of the Paleontology staff of the Australian Museum as consultants.
The specimen was later purchased privately for possible display in a city
development, although the difficult task of cleaning and reconstructing
the shattered skeleton specimen was entrusted to the museum.

It took 450 hours of painstaking work to remove the rock from the numerous
bone fragments and to reassemble them.  All of the original bone in the
pleisosaur's skeleton had been completely replaced with opal, mostly of
a poor quality white variety; a type of preservation unique in Australia.
The results were spectacular, most of the skeleton (85-90%) was recovered
and succesfully rebuilt.  The fragile skull came out in four separate
blocks of rock.  Inside the pleisosaur's rib-cage lay piles of smooth,
round pebbles of gastroliths (stomach stone).  Mixed in with them were
a dozen tiny fish vertebrae, also opalized, the remains of the animals'
last supper.  Preliminary studies reveal this pleisosaur, a fast swimming
marine predator with numerous sharp teeth, to be related to a form known
as Peyerous, found in South Africa over 60 million years ago in rocks
of approximately the same age.  However, the Australian animal probably
represents a new species.

Through contributions of over $300,000 from all around Australia, the
Australia Museum has been able to purchase "Eric", guaranteeing continued
public display in Australia.