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World’s Most Diverse Collection of Dinosaur Footprints Unveiled

A group of paleontologists from the University of Queensland and James Cook University has documented the most diverse assemblage of dinosaur tracks in the world on the north-western coast of Western Australia.

Dinosaur tracks in the Walmadany area, Western Australia. Image credit: Steve Salisbury.

Dinosaur tracks in the Walmadany area, Western Australia. Image credit: Steve Salisbury.

At least 48 dinosaurian tracksites were found along a 15.5-mile (25 km) stretch of rock on the Dampier Peninsula in Australia’s Kimberley region.

“The tracksites were concentrated in three main areas along the coast: Yanijarri in the north, Walmadany in the middle, and Kardilakan-Jajal Buru in the south,” the paleontologists said.

“Thousands of tracks were examined and measured in situ and using three-dimensional photogrammetry.”

“The diversity of the tracks around Walmadany was globally unparalleled and made the area the ‘Cretaceous equivalent of the Serengeti’,” added team leader Dr. Steve Salisbury, a paleontologist at the University of Queensland.

“It is extremely significant, forming the primary record of non-avian dinosaurs in the western half the continent and providing the only glimpse of Australia’s dinosaur fauna during the first half of the Early Cretaceous Period.”

“It’s such a magical place — Australia’s own Jurassic Park, in a spectacular wilderness setting.”

The footprints, dated to between 140 million and 127 million years ago (Cretaceous period), range in size from small (20 cm, or 8 inches) to very large (almost 1.7 m, or 5.6 feet).

Of the tracks examined, 150 can confidently be assigned to 21 specific track types, representing four main groups of dinosaurs: (i) theropods (three-toed bipedal carnivores); (ii) sauropods (massive, long-necked quadrupedal herbivores); (iii) ornithopods (bipedal herbivores); (iv) and thyreophorans (armored quadrupedal herbivores covered in plates and spikes).

“Among the tracks is the only confirmed evidence for stegosaurs in Australia,” Dr. Salisbury noted.

“There are also some of the largest dinosaur tracks ever recorded. Some of the sauropod tracks are around 1.7 m long.”

Goolarabooloo Law Boss Richard Hunter with a giant sauropod track in the Dampier Peninsula, Western Australia. Image credit: Steve Salisbury.

Goolarabooloo Law Boss Richard Hunter with a giant sauropod track in the Dampier Peninsula, Western Australia. Image credit: Steve Salisbury.

The dinosaur tracks have always been known to the Aboriginal custodians of the land.

“For thousands of years, tracks in the 130-million-year-old sandstone have been part of the cultural heritage of the people of the Dampier Peninsula and greater west Kimberley,” the researchers said.

“The tracks are integral to a ‘song cycle’ that extends along the coast from Bunginygun to Wabana then inland to the southeast over a total distance of approximately 280 miles (450 km), tracing the journey of a Dreamtime creator being known as Marala, or ‘Emu Man’.”

“These trackways are of international significance,” Dr. Salisbury added.

“The glimpse of a 130-million-year-old world that they provide is awe inspiring. But it is the linking of these track sites into the songline and associated indigenous culture that adds a whole other dimension to their significance.”

The scientific description of the tracks was published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology on March 24, 2017.

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S.W. Salisbury et al. 2017. The dinosaurian ichnofauna of the Lower Cretaceous (Valanginian–Barremian) Broome Sandstone of the Walmadany area (James Price Point), Dampier Peninsula, Western Australia. Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Memoir 16. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 36 (6); doi: 10.1080/02724634.2016.1269539