Australia has its very own Jurassic Park, according to scientists who have been studying an impressive collection of dinosaur tracks on the beaches of Western Australia’s Kimberley region.
The 25-kilometer-long coastline is home to over 20 different kinds of fossil footprints that have been imprinted on sandstone rock, many visible only during low tide, the BBC reports. Some of these are over 1.5 meters big, documenting the movements of sauropods – the giant dinosaurs with long necks and tails.
Steve Salisbury, the lead scientist on the project, says these tracks are “globally unparalleled.”
This is the most diverse dinosaur track fauna we’ve ever recorded,
he explains. “In this time slice (127 and 140 million years ago) in Australia, we’ve got no other record – there’s virtually no other fossils from any part of the continent. This is only window, and what we see is truly amazing.”
“Twenty-one different types. There are about six different types of tracks for meat-eating dinosaurs; about the same number for sauropod dinosaurs; about four different types of ornithopod dinosaur tracks – so, two-legged plant-eaters – and really exciting, I think, are six types of armored dinosaur tracks, including stegosaurs, which we’ve never seen before in Australia,” Salisbury expounds.
The scientist put together a team from Queensland University and James Cook University to take a closer look at the footprints, after the local Goolarabooloo Traditional Custodians invited him.
In 2008, the aborigines of the area had raised concerns over the possible development of a natural gas facility, and asked Salisbury to help document the fossil prints as part of their campaign to oppose the gas plans.
Salisbury notes that the indigenous people have been referring to the dinosaur prints in their oral history for as long as thousands of years. “They form part of a song cycle – they relate to a creation mythology, and specifically the tracks show the journey of a creation being called Marala – the emu man. Wherever he went he left behind three-toed tracks that now we recognize as the tracks of meat-eating dinosaurs.”
The team spent over 400 hours detailing the dinosaur prints from 2011 to 2016. They examined and measured using three-dimensional photogrammetry, and took silicone peels so that casts could be made.
Most of the dinosaur fossils in Australia have come from the eastern side of the country, ranging from 115 to 90 million years old.
The study was published in the 2016 Memoir of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.