New insights into ancient North America will result from the discovery of 165 million year-old dinosaur footprints near Shell, Wyo., according to a University of Wyoming researcher.
"The Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite is the most important tracksite ever found in Wyoming. Dinosaur tracksites like this from the Middle Jurassic Period are rare in the world," says paleontologist Brent Breithaupt, UW Geological Museum director who is leading the fossil track investigation of the site.
"The tracksite is special because little is known about dinosaurs of that time," Breithaupt adds. "Also, it is from an area of Wyoming that some believed was under a vast inland sea during the Middle Jurassic, so the site will help in our understanding of the region's geologic past."
The site is located on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administered public land. Erik Kvale, an Indiana Geological Survey geologist, found the tracks in spring 1997 during a family outing. Kvale was surprised to find the footprints in the Sundance Formation that is better known for its plentiful marine fossils. Elizabeth H. Southwell, UW Geological Museum researcher, and other scientists are assisting Briethaupt.
Initial findings indicate that many of the footprints were made by meat-eating (theropod) dinosaurs that traveled on a tidal flat along a shoreline. In-depth site research will begin this spring to uncover the tracks and map the 40-acre tracksite. A public educational/interpretive program may be developed with the BLM, Breithaupt says.
"We hope further searching may expose better preserved examples of these tracks, which might allow for further identification," he says. "There is a potential to find tracks of other types of animals such as lizards, crocodiles, pterosaurs, mammals and birds."
The Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite is located in the same general area where "Big Al", one of the most complete Allosaurus fossils ever found, was discovered in 1991. A display about "Big Al" is featured at the UW Geological Museum. However, "Big Al" didn't make any of the tracks since he lived approximately 15 million years after the animals that made the tracks at Red Gulch, Breithaupt says.
"The tracks were made by dinosaurs that lived just before the major expansion of dinosaur species that marked the Late Jurassic Period in North America," Breithaupt adds.
The Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite will provide opportunities for UW students interested in paleontology, geology, and geography and recreation, Breithaupt says. "This is more than an opportunity to explore the past. It is a chance for students to learn about an important educational and scientific resource."
Besides Breithaupt and Southwell, other scientists involved at the site are Kvale, who is studying the sedimentologic and stratigraphic components of the Sundance Formation; James O. Farlow, Indiana University, who will assist in the trackway research; Michael Brett-Surman, Smithsonian Institution, who will help identify the trackmakers; Allen Archer, Kansas State University, who will study the invertebrate fossils at the site; and Gary D. Johnson, Dartmouth College, who will assist in determining the age of the site and develop a geologic map of the area.
For more information, call Breithaupt at (307) 766-2646. For information about viewing the Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite, call BLM public affairs specialists Janine Terry, (307) 347-5194, or Cindy Wertz, (307) 775-6014.
Visit the UW Geological Museum web site at http://www.uwyo.edu/legal/geomuseum/geolpage.htm
Materials provided by University Of Wyoming. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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