Science First Look

Scientists describe treasure trove of dinosaur tracks in Australia

Dubbed 'Australia’s Jurassic Park,' a 15-mile stretch of Dampier Peninsula coastline boasts an unprecedented 21 different types of dinosaur tracks.

The dinosaur with the largest footprint to date roamed the Australian coast some 100 million years ago, according to new findings from an area dubbed "Australia's Jurassic Park." 

Researchers from the University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences and James Cook University’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences uncovered 21 different types of tracks along a 15 mile stretch of the Dampier Peninsula in western Australia. They spent more than 400 hours over five years documenting thousands of tracks, and published their findings Friday.

What they found was evidence of the most diverse dinosaur community ever discovered.

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,” Steve Salisbury, the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “It’s such a magical place – Australia’s own Jurassic Park, in a spectacular wilderness setting,” Dr. Salisbury said.

That includes five types tracks of predatory dinosaur, six types from armored dinosaurs, the first evidence of stegosaurus ever found in Australia, and a the largest ever footprint, measuring 1.7 meters, or more than 5.5 feet long. Researchers estimate the tracks are between 90 million and 115 million years old.

In 2008, the aboriginal people of Western Australia's Kimberley region became concerned about the possible development of a liquid natural gas facility. They asked researchers, including Dr. Salisbury, who is a lecturer at University of Queensland, to document the tracks as part of their fight against the facility’s construction.

For the indigenous group of people known as the Goolarabooloo, the tracks represent more than just a piece of history. They believe the footprints are those of their creator spirit Marrala, also known as the Emu Man.

The prints have played a role in the group’s oral history.

“We needed the world to see what was at stake,” Goolarabooloo senior law boss Phillip Roe said in the statement. “Marala was the Lawgiver. He gave country the rules we need to follow. How to behave, to keep things in balance.”

“It’s great to work with UQ researchers,” he added. “We learnt a lot from them and they learnt a lot from us.”

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