Dinosaur footprints cut from rock for move to museum

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A set of dinosaur footprints that have helped scientists to estimate how fast the beasts could run were yesterday removed from the rock where they have been for more than 160 million years.

A set of dinosaur footprints that have helped scientists to estimate how fast the beasts could run were yesterday removed from the rock where they have been for more than 160 million years.

The fossilised tracks were made by a massive meat-eater called megalosaurus, which once ran alongside an even bigger herbivorous dinosaur, called cetiosaurus. Quarry workers wielding circular saws helped scientists to cut the footprints from Ardley quarry in Oxfordshire, in order to house them in a new annex to the county's museum in Woodstock.

Some of the footprints are up to three feet long, two feet wide and eight inches deep and are being cut out as part of 10 huge slabs of limestone.

Hugh Coddington, Oxfordshire's deputy archaeologist, said the footprints were especially important because they are so well preserved and show two species living in the same prehistoric habitat.

"The footprints which have been found were over a large area and there are definite tracks of individuals which seem in very close proximity to each other," Dr Coddington said. "The inference is that the smaller carnivores were hunting the larger herbivores.

"It is unique in the fact that there are two different sorts of dinosaur in very close proximity at the same time, and also because of the conclusive evidence that the two-legged carnivore could run."

When the two dinosaurs lived, in the Jurassic period, the site would have been a mud flat on the edge of a tropical sea. Their freshly made footprints probably dried out before being covered in a layer of silt. An analysis of megalosaurus's tracks shows that it walked on two legs with its toes pointing outwards in a swaggering gait, before stepping into a stride with its legs being brought directly under its body.

Scientists calculate that it could have run at 18mph, which is almost as fast as an Olympic sprinter. That is fast for an animal that grew up to 23 feet long and had a three-foot skull.

The lumbering cetiosaurus was nearly twice as big and probably ate vegetation growing in the shallow waters of the mudflat. It would have almost certainly been a source of food for megalosaurus.

Comments