Magazine article Science News

A Walk along the Lakeshore, Dinosaur-Style

Magazine article Science News

A Walk along the Lakeshore, Dinosaur-Style

Article excerpt

A walk along the lakeshore, dinosaur-style

Quarry workers have uncovered what may be the most extensive group of dinosaur tracks known in eastern North America. Paleontologists say this set of more than 1,000 fossilized footprints, found in Culpeper, Va., offers new insight into the behavior of some of the first dinosaurs.

"I'm overwhelmed by the magnitude of the information that's available on the floor of this one quarry," says Robert E. Weems of the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Va. "This is the earliest extensive look at dinosaur behavior that we've got."

In a 6-acre space at the bottom of the quarry, Weems and others have identified tracks from two types of carnivorous dinosaurs and a puzzling third animal, which may have looked like a large horned crocodile. The roving reptiles left their marks in muddy ground near a lakeshore during the later stage of the Triassic period, some 210 million years ago, Weems said last week at a press conference announcing the finds. This geologic time sits at the very beginning of the dinosaurs' long and successful history on Earth.

Fourteen years earlier in the same quarry, workers with the Culpeper Stone Co. unearthed tracks at a level about 150 feet higher and 300,00 years later than the rock at the current quarry bottom. Weems, who also studied this earlier find, says those tracks recorded a wider variety of animals but showed less detail and were not as well preserved as the newly discovered imprints.

In recent years, the study of preserved footprints has undergone a renaissance among paleontologists. A long, continuous set of prints can reveal more information than bones can about how extinct animals moved. "It doesn't tell you where the animal died or was buried; it tells you where the animal was actually living and walking around. That's a very important aspect and one that tends to get neglected," says Nicholas Hotton, a vertebrate paleontologist with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D. …

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