A tiny piece of precious stone was all it took identify the ancestor of one of our most ancient and cunning predators.
That and some prehistoric detective work at The University of New England.
Opal hunters discovered the small lump of whiteish rock at Lightning Ridge in the early 2000s.
But nobody realised what it was until researchers matched it to a much earlier find.
Discovered in 1917, that piece was also opalized but clearly part of the jawbone from a then-unknown predator.
Taking their lead from the growing body of research at Lightning Ridge, one of Australia’s most important fossil sites, researchers finally linked the two.
In the process they described an entirely new species, Isisfordia molnari, thought to have lived more than 100 million years ago, making it the oldest-known ancestor of today’s living crocodiles.
The small piece found in the early 2000s was part of its braincase, a section of bone at the back of the skull.
Researchers think Isisfordia molnari, like its modern descendants, was a semi-aquatic predator that liked to lie in wait for its victims.
The latter were most likely small dinosaurs, including other recently identified species from Lightning Ridge such as Weewarrasaurus.
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