Australian Age of Dinosaur Discover Sauropod Footprints in Winton
14 February, 2019
Palaeontologists in Winton have uncovered the best-preserved sauropod trackway in Australia. This Queensland first is anticipated to boost tourist numbers to the Queensland outback and will have a significant impact on the outback tourism economy.
Footprints on the trackway include 20 tracks made by a single large sauropod dinosaur, footprints made by small ornithopod dinosaurs and chicken-sized theropod dinosaurs and the trampled tracks of other sauropods including at least one sub-adult.
The tracks are preserved in a rock shelf at the bottom of a small creek, extend 55 metres and cover an area equivalent to the size of two basketball courts. The sauropod footprints are well-preserved with the giant thumb claw visible on most of the fore feet and, in some, the impressions of individual toes can be identified. Each of the animal’s hind footprints is nearly one metre long.
Australian vertebrate palaeontologist Dr Stephen Poropat of Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne is leading the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum’s research team.
Dr Poropat said that having three major dinosaur groups – sauropods, ornithopods and theropods – represented on the same trackway surface was incredibly rare.
“The small ornithopod and theropod footprints were clearly made by very similar (if not identical) trackmakers to those preserved at Dinosaur Stampede National Monument, which is located about 100km south of this site,” he said.
According to Dr Poropat the longest sequence of sauropod footprints can be followed continuously for more than 40 metres and would have comprised nearly two dozen fore and hind footprint sets when complete.
“These footprints are the best of their kind in Australia and their shape can be distinguished from all known sauropod footprints worldwide,” he said.
Dr Poropat said that many of the footprints were surrounded by concentric mud cracks that were propagated through the once-moist sediment by the weight of the sauropod’s footfalls.
“That these fine details are so well preserved after 95 million years is remarkable,” he said.
Dr Poropat said the sauropod footprints cannot be assigned to any particular sauropod species despite the fact that there are three different sauropods known from the Winton Formation and that at least one had a thumb claw.
“All we can say with confidence at this point is that these footprints were made by titanosauriform sauropods,” he said.
Executive Chairman of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum David Elliott led the excavation in April 2018 with the support of volunteers and museum staff.
Mr Elliott said the newly exposed trackway was extremely fragile and its removal from the creek bed was a high priority for the museum.
Relocation of the trackway began in September 2018 and the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum has now removed 25 per cent of the total area including all the fragile footprints that were in danger of being destroyed.
“This is a very slow and painstaking process,” Mr Elliott said.
“The total weight of the trackway is in the vicinity of 500 tonnes and we are transporting it back to the Museum, one two-tonne trailer load at a time.”
Relocation of the trackway is expected to continue through to the end of winter 2019.
Photo credit: Australian Age of Dinosaur