Dinosaur footprints in WA’s Kimberley being studied for first time

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For many years some of the biggest, best-preserved dinosaur footprints in the world have been shrouded in secrecy.

Dinosaur footprints in WA's Kimberley being studied for first time
Palaeontologist Steve Salisbury displays a silicon cast taken from 
a dinosaur footprint [Credit: ABC/Erin Parke]

But that is about to change with scientists conducting the first detailed study of dinosaur trackways in Western Australia’s Kimberley region.

A Queensland-based research group led by palaeontologist Steve Salisbury has found footprints that have never been photographed.

“So many of the tracks that are here, there’s no other place in Australia where they occur,” he said.

“It’s easily the most diverse and abundant set of track sites in Australia, and globally there are few other places that have as many types of dinosaur tracks as Broome has.”

Yawuru traditional owner Micklo Corpus said millions of years ago enormous sauropods roamed up and down what is now the Kimberley coastline.

“130 million years ago these tracks were formed and it is so special to sit on the same spot a 130 years later… that’s mind-boggling,” Mr Corpus said.

The trackways run over 60 kilometres of coastline, mostly created by four-legged, plant-eating dinosaurs like the brachiosaurus or diplodocus.

“So everything from animals about 10 metres long, to things that were probably some of the biggest dinosaurs to ever walk the planet, more than 30 metres, with footprints that are upward of one and one-and-a-half metres long,” Mr Salisbury said.

“What’s really interesting are the four legged, plant-eating dinosaurs, so things like anchisaurus and stegosaurs.

“We’ve really got no other substantial record of those types of dinosaurs, apart from stegosaurus, from any other part of Australia, only in Broome do we see evidence of it, so it’s pretty special what’s here.”

Although some of the trackways are well known, others have been kept secret by local Aboriginal people and scientists, for fear they could be stolen or vandalised.

In the 1990s one of the dinosaur prints was drilled from the rock to be sold on the black market.

The prints are woven into the mythology of the local Yawuru people and they are keen to have the prints documented if it helps make the case for better management and protection.

“I think it’s very important to make people understand and have some understanding and awareness about the prints here, especially in our kids at school today, because they’ll inherit this role and be responsible to look after these prints here in the future,” Mr Corpus said.

Dr Salisbury’s team has this week started a three-year project, measuring the prints and making silicon casts so each can be recreated in digital three-dimension.

“By scanning it digitally and also creating replicas of some of the better tracks with silicon, hopefully we can create a record that will important for future scientific research and also just for everyone’s knowledge of what’s here on Broome’s doorstep,” he said.

The research team hopes to make the first digital footprint models available to museums by the end of the year.

Author: Erin Parke | Source: ABC News Website [April 09, 2014]

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