Paleontologists have discovered the world’s largest dinosaur footprints in western Australia. The footprints measure 5 feet 9 inches (1.75 meters) in length. It means the newly discovered footprints are even bigger than the 1.15-meter long footprint found last July in Bolivia and the 1.06-meter footprint in Mongolia. Scientists published details of the discovery in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Dinosaur footprints in Australia’s own Jurassic Park
University of Queensland paleontologist Steve Salisbury described the 25-kilometer Dampier Peninsula coastline collection as Australia’s “Jurassic Park.” Salisbury said the giant footprints belonged to a sauropod, a group of long-necked herbivores which includes brontosaurus. The area of Walmadan (that’s what the aborigines call the Dampier Peninsula coastline) in Kimberly region where the tracks were discovered was a river delta about 130 million years ago. The dinosaurs would frequently go through the wet sandy areas between the surrounding forests.
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Dr. Salisbury said they have found several tracks in that area that are 1.7 meters long. Based on the length of footprints, scientists estimate that the dinosaur might have been 5.3 – 5.5 meters at the hip. The animal that left these footprints was the largest member of sauropods. Interestingly, the footprints of that size were initially overlooked because they were beyond the search range for a dinosaur track.
The most advanced dinosaur fauna in the world
It was just one of the 21 types of dinosaur footprints found in the area, Dr. Salisbury said in a statement. It makes the Dampier Peninsula coastline the world’s most diverse dinosaur fauna. All the 21 types of dinosaurs were living together in the same area at the same time. In some areas around the coastline, all you see is dinosaur tracks.
The 21 different tracks included five belonging to predatory dinosaurs and six from armored ones. Dr. Salisbury also found the first ever evidence of stegosaurs in Australia. Scientists estimate that the dinosaur footprints in the area are 90 to 115 million years old. Sauropods were not a rare group. Their fossils have been unearthed from every continent on the planet, except Antarctica.
Aborigines didn’t want the gas processing plant there
Describing the discovery as “extremely significant,” Dr. Salisbury said it forms the primary record of non-avian dinosaurs in the western part of Australia. Salisbury and his colleagues started studying dinosaur footprints in the area in 2008 when the aborigines approached them after Woodside Petroleum proposed to build a natural gas processing plant in Walmadan.
They urged Dr. Salisbury to record the beach prints as part of their opposition to the natural gas processing plant. The Dampier Peninsula coastline has spiritual significance for the aborigines. The land was declared a National Heritage site in 2011. The gas plant proposal was trashed in 2013 after Woodside Petroleum determined that the project would not be economically feasible.
The dinosaur footprints have long been known to the aborigines. Dr. Salisbury said they have referred to the markings in their oral history for thousands of years. These tracks relate to a creation mythology. “They form part of a song cycle,” said Salisbury.