Dinosaur paws make a giant impression

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The Independent Online
They were the mother of all footprints, dating back to the Jurassic Age, and made by the largest land animals to walk the earth. And they could easily have ended up next to the gnomes and ornamental pond in a suburban garden.

The largest dinosaur tracks discovered is Britain, a find of global importance, are being guarded by a fence at a National Trust quarry in Dorset. Sauropods, which were giant herbivores, made the 52 prints 140 million years ago in what is now Keates Quarry, Worth Maltravers. The largest was 44in across - the creature making it would have been 90 feet long and 12 feet high at the hip.

Kevin Keates, who leases the area from the Trust, confessed he had no idea what he had found, and had it not been for a naturalist alerting him, the rocks could have finished in someone's garden. Palaeontologists could hardly contain their excitement. Jo Wright, of Bristol University, said sauropod footprints were rare throughout the world -- the only other occurrence had been in Yorkshire.

"This is really, really important. It is very important globally because the Purbeck limestone group, the rock in which the footprints were found, is at the the junction between the Upper Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous periods. This is one of the very few sites in the world you can see this.

"It seems the tracks were made by around a dozen dinosaurs. There seem to be at least three different directions in which the tracks go."

The long-necked, long-tailed sauropods could weigh up to 70 tons. Dr Wright thought the Dorset tracks were probably made by animals weighing around 30 tons. The area where they were found is one of the most important fossil sites in the world.

In prehistoric times it was the limestone shoreline of a freshwater lagoon and it had yielded footprints of carnivorous, herbivorous, and armoured dinosaurs.

Mr Keates, who had been quarrying the site for 30 years, uncovered the tracks in September, but it was a local naturalist, Trev Haysom, who alerted him to the fact they were dinosaur prints.

He said: "I did not have a clue what they were, because they were not normal three- toe dinosaur prints.

"If they had not been spotted the whole area would have been excavated and broken up. The site would have been used for rockery and slabs, or whatever we could make out of it."

The National Trust will study how to conserve the footprints and open the area to visitors.