In a way, the dinosaurs have never disappeared. They may be extinct, but they have always occupied a special place in our imagination. As children, we likely played with dinosaur toys or at least drew pictures of them surrounded by wild jungles.
And it’s not only among children; dinosaurs are a seemingly inexhaustible passion of scientists. Hearing about the latest dinosaur-related discovery is always going to be an adrenaline rush.
In 2016, one of the largest dinosaur footprints ever found was reportedly found in the Gobi desert by a joint expedition of Mongolian and Japanese researchers. Discovered in a geological layer dating up to 90 million years ago, a print deemed to have belonged to the gigantic herbivore Titanosaur was measured at almost four feet long.
At the time, the discovery was considered to be one of the largest known dinosaur footprints. However, new findings reported in the March 2017 issue of Memoir of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, point out that the largest dinosaur footprints can now be seen in an area situated on the Kimberley shoreline, in a remote part of Western Australia.
To the excitement of the scientific community, the paleontologists who were working on the ground discovered a rich collection of dinosaur footprints in sandstone rock formations, including a 5.6 foot example. Many of these prints are visible only at low tide.
Reportedly, the footprints belong to at least 21 different types of dinosaurs. That also makes the Australian site exceptionally diverse, with the variety of prints making it unique compared to other such sites around the planet. With a number of examples being almost refrigerator-size, some of them are big enough that most people would have no problem fitting inside the tracks. Of course, the large footprints also suggest the dinosaurs must have been exceptionally large.
Steve Salisbury, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Queensland in Australia, has referred to the site as “Australia’s own Jurassic Park.” The discovery is tremendous, as previously there had been no evidence of non-avian dinosaurs in the western part of the australian continent. According to Salisbury, the site is “the only glimpse of Australia’s fauna during the first half of the early Cretaceous period.”
Out of the thousands of prints found on the site, so far at least 150 can be precisely attributed to 21 specific track types that would have belonged to four major dinosaur groups. The largest track supposedly belongs to sauropods, a huge Diplodocus-like herbivore remarkable for its long extended neck and tail. Once roaming the Earth steadily on its four legs, the Diplodocus is one of the most easily identifiable dinosaurs of all. Its great size would have intimidated any predator who might have wanted to attack.
In addition, the scientists are certain the tracks belong to at least four different species of ornithopod dinosaurs, a type of two-legged herbivore, and there is evidence of tracks belonging to at least six types of armored dinosaurs.
The ornithopod dinosaurs were another exceptional group that thrived in the Cretaceous world. Evolutionarily, they are fantastic because they started out as small, bipedal runners that steadily grew in size and numbers. One of the major traits of this dinosaur was the remarkable progression of a chewing apparatus; is perhaps rivals that of present-day mammals such as the domestic cow.
Among the identified traces of the six types of armored dinosaur on the Australian site, there is evidence of the Stegosaur. Previously, there was no evidence that the Stegosaur existed in Australia. This is one more recognizable type of dinosaur, identifiable by its distinctive upright plates and tail adorned with spikes.
It is estimated that the prints were formed on the Kimberley shoreline some 130 million years ago. In those times, the area has most likely a vast river delta and dinosaur fauna would have roamed around freely in the wet sandy realms surrounded by rich forests.
The expedition on the site was initiated after the region was chosen for a liquid natural gas plant several years ago. Reportedly, the Goolarabooloo people, who are the Indigenous community familiar with the area, contacted scientists, encouraging them to investigate the prominent site. And they were not mistaken.
The team of scientists, from Queensland University and James Cook University, documented the prints along with representatives of the Indigenous group. The efforts have paid off and have indeed provided much-needed knowledge about the dinosaur groups in the region, and have opened new lines of research.
This latest find from the world of dinosaurs certainly tells us that these vivid otherworldly beings, lost in time, will continue to act as tenants of our imagination.