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Huge dinosaur footprints discovered in central west Queensland, narrowly saved from floodwaters

Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson, February 15, 2019 7:10PM News Corp Australia Network

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Excavation teams working to preserve the area of dinosaur tracks near Winton, Queensland. media_cameraExcavation teams working to preserve the area of dinosaur tracks near Winton, Queensland.

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One of the world’s biggest collection of dinosaur tracks has been discovered in central west Queensland, in a stretch of land the size of two basketball courts and featuring detailed footprints from massive dinosaurs.

One of the prehistoric creatures could have been at least 18m long, or almost as long as a cricket pitch, palaeontologists* said, and may have been pulling a younger relative, perhaps 11m long, into line.

media_cameraArtist impression of two sauropods. There are tracks of a sauropod at least 18m long that suggest it was walking with another sauropod 11m long.

The well-preserved 95 million-year-old collection of tracks in sandstone is at Winton. The tracks are estimated to weigh 500 tonnes and are now being carefully moved to an outback museum, where owners hope they will become a major international tourist attraction and bring the spotlight back to a region devastated by drought and flood.

Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum executive director David Elliott said the tracks were discovered after floods moved a creek bed in 2000, but the landowner initially dismissed the idea the footprints were made by dinosaurs.

A second look by a caretaker inspired experts from the museum to investigate and confirm what has been described as “the best preserved sauropod trackway in Australia”.

Mr Elliott said the trackway appeared to show the preserved footprints of large sauropod dinosaurs, as well as smaller ornithopod dinosaurs and chicken-sized theropod dinosaurs.

“You can see how they’re walking and it’s amazing,” he said.

Some of the footprints revealed incredible details about the sauropod’s feet and claws, he said, and a track 40m long revealed one 18m dinosaur with 97cm feet and steps as large as 3.3m in length.

“You can see on the track where a little (dinosaur) actually walks in front of the big one, and it looks like it’s pushed it back,” he said. “There’s some pretty interesting stuff on it.”

A team of palaeontologists has been excavating and moving parts of the trackway since September last year so it could be preserved at the museum, where Mr Elliott said it could become a major attraction.

media_cameraLifting out a sauropod trackway section made of sandstone with a forklift for it to be transferred to a museum.

“Its value as a tourist attraction for western Queensland is just phenomenal,” he said.

“We’re trying to get international tourism started because towns are dying everywhere from the drought to now the flood.”

The team has so far moved one quarter of the most delicate sections, including an area that would otherwise have been swept away in the recent Queensland flood.

media_cameraLoading the sections of track to be transported to the museum, where the display could be open to the public by mid-2020.

The remaining area has been covered in mud, however, and will need to be cleaned before it can be moved.

Queensland Tourism Industry Development Minister Kate Jones said the discovery could provide a much-needed boost for the region.

“We know the people of Winton are doing it tough at the moment, but discoveries like this will boost the tourism industry and help the outback economy recover from the recent monsoon*,” she said.

Swinburne University of Technology vertebrate* palaeontologist Dr Stephen Poropat said the discovery also presented a huge scientific opportunity.

“This is the first time we’ve seen sauropods in the eastern part of the continent,” he said, as evidence of the dinosaurs had previously only been found in Western Australia.

“We’ve been hoping to find something like this for quite some time.”

Dr Poropat said the tracks could help palaeontologists pin down “the motion of these long-necked dinosaurs” and perhaps understand if they gathered in packs.

media_cameraThe excavation teams have removed the most delicate tracks. The recent floods covered the site in mud again and will need to be uncovered before the remainder of the tracks can be moved to safety.

“We’re so lucky that the creek exposed these footprints,” he said. “It was an amazing chance discovery. To know that so many of those footprints have now been saved, we’re so relieved.”

Mr Elliott said the museum, a non-profit organisation based in Corfield, would need more volunteers when the weather improved, but would attempt to have the trackway moved and ready for tourists by the middle of 2020.

GLOSSARY

  • palaeontologists: scientists who study fossils
  • monsoon: tropical summer weather that in some regions brings heavy rain
  • vertebrate: animal with a backbone, such as a mammal

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. What three types of dinosaurs walked there?
  2. How long are the feet of the 18m dinosaur?
  3. What did the flood do to the tracks still on the ground?
  4. Why do the people of western Queensland need a boost?
  5. What are two things it is hoped the tracks will help us understand?
  6. When does the museum hope to have the tracks on display?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Artist’s Impression
The article includes an artist’s impression of what the sauropods might have looked like. However, there were more than just sauropod dinosaur tracks that were found. Create your own artist impression drawing all the types of dinosaurs they found tracks of and the landscape you would expect to see when they existed. Take note of the sizes they believe them to have been and draw them in proportion.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, The Arts – Visual Arts, Science 

2. Extension
David Elliot and his team are hoping that these dinosaur tracks will encourage people to visit western Queensland and boost tourism in the area. Help them announce their new exhibit at the museum by creating a radio interview that might take place the week before it opens. Assume that the transfer of the tracks to the museum went according to plan. Decide who will be interviewed (at least two people) and what questions might be asked of them. Your questions should highlight the significance of what was found and what can be learnt from this. Write both the questions and the likely answers.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity 
Curriculum Links: English, Science,

VCOP ACTIVITY
After reading the article, with a partner, highlight all the openers you can find in blue. Discuss if they are powerful and varied openers or not. Why do you think the journalists has used a mix of simple and power openers? Would you change any, and why?

HAVE YOUR SAY: What dinosaur would you like to see for real? Why that one?

No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking.

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