Paleontologists investigating a stretch of the coastline of the Dampier Peninsula in north-western Australia have found the world’s largest dinosaur footprint. The footprint was one of an “unprecedented” number of dinosaur tracks dating back to the Early Cretaceous Period, between 146 million to 100 million years ago, discovered on Australia’s Dampier Peninsula.
Researchers from the University of Queensland and James Cook University documented thousands of dinosaur footprints along a 25 kilometer (16 miles) stretch of the coast of Dampier Peninsula. The stretch of coastline was dubbed “Australia’s Jurassic Park” due to evidence of the stunning diversity of the dinosaur population of the area in the Early Cretaceous Period.
According to Dr. Steve Salisbury, a professor at the University of Queensland and lead author of the study published in the Journal Vertebrate Paleontology, the stretch of the coastline of the peninsula holds the most diverse known collection of dinosaur tracks in the world.
He described the area as the “Cretaceous equivalent of the Serengeti” in Africa.
During five years of the study, from 2011-2016, the paleontologists identified at least 21 different types of dinosaur tracks in the area. Salisbury described the diversity of dinosaur tracks as “unparalleled.”
The footprints were identified as having belonged to several species of dinosaurs, including sauropods, theropods, ornithopods, and thyreophoran dinosaurs. The largest of the footprints belonged to suaropod individuals.
“This is the most diverse dinosaur track fauna ever recorded. If we went back in time 130 million years ago, we would’ve seen all these different dinosaurs walking over this coastline. It must’ve been quite a sight.”
“It’s is extremely significant, forming the record of non-avian dinosaurs in the western half of the continent and providing the only glimpse of Australia’s dinosaur fauna during the first half of the Early Cretaceous Period,” Salisbury said.
The researchers used drones to explore inaccessible sites centered in the coastal areas of Yanijarri, Walmadany and Kardilakan-Jajal Buru in north-western Australia. They also used three-dimensional photogrammetry to measure the tracks and silicon molds of the tracks.
“There are thousands of tracks around Walmadany. Of these, 150 can confidently be assigned to 21 specific track types, representing four main groups of dinosaurs.”
Some of the tracks were unusually large. One footprint, identified as having belonged to a sauropod, a type of large, long-necked herbivorous dinosaur, was hailed as the largest dinosaur footprint ever found, measuring nearly 5-feet-9-inches (1.75 meters,).
Sauropods, notable for the massive sizes some of the species attained to, have been found in almost every continent. They have very long necks, long tails, and heads that are small relative to the mass of the body. The infra-order Sauropoda, which first appeared in the late Triassic Period (250 million-200 million years ago), included some of the largest land animals that ever roamed the surface of the Earth, such as Brachiosaurus, Diplodocus, Apatosaurus, and Brontosaurus.
The spread around the world during the Late Jurassic, about 150 million years ago, and by the Late Cretaceous, the period from which the Australian tracks date, another closely-related group, known as the titanosaurs, were replacing them. But most dinosaur species died out as part of the Cretaceous–Paleogene mass extinction event believed to have been linked with an asteroid impact event.
The discovery of the largest-ever dinosaur track in July 2016 was announced through a statement issued on Monday.
The largest footprint of a carnivorous dinosaur every found was a 1.15 meter (3-feet-9-inches) footprint.
An image published by the researchers (see below) shows a member of the research team, Richard Hunter, lying alongside the 1.75 meter (5-feet-9-inch) sauropod track in the Walmadany area of the Dampier Peninsula in northwestern Australia.
Experts estimated that the beast that made the tracks must have been about 5.4 meters (17 feet, nine inches) high at the hips.
“The giant footprints are no doubt spectacular,” Salisbury told CNN. “There’s nothing that comes close.”
The footprints also include one that is the only known fossil evidence of the armored and herbivorous stegosaurus on the Australian continent, experts said.
“Among the tracks is the only confirmed evidence for stegosaurus in Australia,” Salisbury said. “There are also some of the largest dinosaur tracks ever recorded. Some of the sauropod tracks are around 1.7m long.”
[Featured Image by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]