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Scientist solved the mystery of strange dinosaur footprints on the cave ceiling

Scientist solved the mystery of strange dinosaur footprints on the cave ceiling 1

The footprints of a certain four-legged dinosaur, which puzzled paleontologists more than 60 years ago, turned out to be not what was originally supposed.

Mount Morgan was a true gold mine for paleontologists. In its vicinity, more than a hundred extant footprints of dinosaurs were found, including an unusual chain of five tracks on the ceiling of one of the local caves. They clearly belong to the representative of the theropod suborder – bipedal large reptiles, to which belonged also the tyrannosaurus.

The peculiarity of these tracks is that the creature that left them seemed to move on four legs – the prints are so close to each other. But for theropods, this is not characteristic in any way.

A hoax or previously unknown detail of the life of giant reptiles? Due to the fact that the cave in which the tracks are located has been closed for a long time, and the remaining photo evidence of the 1950s is of poor quality, this has remained a mystery for a long time.

Scientist solved the mystery of strange dinosaur footprints on the cave ceiling 2
Those same tracks / © University of Queensland

Paleontologist Anthony Romilio of the University of Queensland also had little hope of solving this riddle. However, he was lucky: materials for clues were not at all in the cave. Romilio met Roslyn Dick, a local dentist. Her father, Ross Staines, worked as a geologist in the 1950s and found many dinosaur tracks.

Staines took his findings extremely seriously: he left behind notebooks with detailed reports and a whole series of pictures. Moreover, a plaster cast of a dinosaur’s footprint was even stored in his daughter’s house! Romilio digitized all the images and made a copy of the impressions using a 3D printer: this allowed the scientist to solve the mystery of the unusual traces. An article about this work is published in Historical Biology .

Scientist solved the mystery of strange dinosaur footprints on the cave ceiling 3
Plaster print of one of the tracks / © University of Queensland

Having studied the materials of Staines, Romilio and his colleagues came to the conclusion that all five prints were left by the hind legs of the dinosaur. In addition, the spread fingers and the ratio of their lengths led paleontologists to the idea that the chain of prints was left not by theropods, but by some herbivorous reptiles. 

“Instead of one four-legged dinosaur, we have two dinosaurs here for the price of one,” Romilio jokes. “Both herbivores followed each other along the shores of an ancient lake.”

The fact that in our time traces were on the ceiling of the cave is not surprising. Ancient reptiles left traces on silty sediments, which were later covered with sand from above. Then the alluvial rock from below was destroyed and washed with water, and the harder sandstone retained these traces – and so they were on the ceiling.

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