Dinosaur Footprints & Trackways of la Rioja

Dinosaur Footprints & Trackways of la Rioja

Dinosaur Footprints & Trackways of la Rioja

Dinosaur Footprints & Trackways of la Rioja

Synopsis

During the Early Cretaceous, lakes, meandering streams, and flood plains covered the region where the current foothills of Rioja now exist. Today the area is known for its wine and for the dozens of sites where footprints and trackways of dinosaurs, amphibians, and even pterosaurs can be seen. The dinosaurs that lived here 120 million years ago left their footsteps imprinted in the mud and moist soil. Now fossilized in rock, they have turned Rioja into one of the most valuable dinosaur footprint sites in all of Europe. Félix Pérez-Lorente and his colleagues have published extensively on the region, mostly in Spanish-language journals. In this volume, Pérez-Lorente provides an up-to-date synthesis of that research in English. He offers detailed descriptions of the sites, footprints, and trackways, and explains what these prints and tracks can tell us about the animals who made them.

Excerpt

The spanish province of la rioja is an area of the world where a huge number of dinosaur footprints have been found, with many more likely yet to be discovered. This hilly region has many rock slopes with layers so full of tracks that, if the vegetation, loose rock, and debris could be removed, would yield from 8000 to as many as 25,000 footprints. Using the best estimates from some slopes – that is, the maximum estimate from that partial data – there may be as many as 70,000 footprints.

Many of the footprints are so easy to see that the first people to discover them were likely shepherds or hunters who passed through the area. However, the identity of the first person to correctly interpret them is another question. the footprints are so evocative that the inhabitants of the region have long associated them with animals. in the villages of Enciso, El Villar, and Poyales, there were people who thought the footprints now understood to be those of theropod dinosaurs had been made by giant chickens. in the village of Navalsaz, it was said that the ornithopod footprints of the Cuesta de Andorra had been made by huge lions. It is difficult to know exactly how long such claims have been made, whether the local population even knew about wild animals such as lions, or whether this interpretation was offered by visitors to the region.

The footprints have also been attributed to animals from medieval mythology, in some cases inspired by religion. For example, in Igea, it was said that the footprints had been left by the horse of the apostle James on his travels. Popular tradition has it that James helped the Christians in their wars against the Muslims. As with the legendary “mule tracks” of Setubal in Portugal, there is no end of imaginative interpretations. in some cliffs to the south of Lisbon (Portugal) there are some dinosaur footprints which the ancient Portuguese interpreted as being miraculous. Miguel Telles Antunes (1976) says that according to legend, the Virgin Mary “Santa Maria da pedra da mua” (or an image of her from the 18th century) had come out of the sea and ascended to the top of the cliff while sitting on a mule. During the ascent, the mule left the footprints on the wall. According to Antunes, this tradition may date back to the 13th century. in Igea, the “horse’s” footprints are visible near the Santa Ana chapel, at the place where the apostle’s horse was said to have jumped 3 km to land near the shrine of the Virgen del Villar, where it also left footprints. Interpretations such as these are to be expected, given the knowledge of the population. For example, the presence of marine fossils in many places had to be explained as a whim of nature. Even if no one could explain why, the sea must have been there. Nature is capable of . . .

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