The discovery of 80-centimetre dinosaur footprints puts Australia in the “big league” when it comes to discovering evidence of dinosaurs, says palaeontologist Anthony Romilio.
“I’ve always wondered where Australia’s big predatory dinosaur was,” Dr Romilio said.
Now he has found the evidence, which shows the creature was a Queenslander and a “badass” one at that.
Dr Romilio, from the University of Queensland, has co-published a paper in the peer-reviewed journal Historical Biology, finding Australia’s largest carnivorous dinosaur lived in the Jurassic period.
“We have seen the Tyrannosaurus Rex in North America, and large predatory dinosaurs in Africa and South America,” he said.
“Turns out ours was in Oakey, and it was a badass dinosaur!
“These guys we’ve got are close to 3 metres tall, something we have not seen in the skeletal fossil remains in this country.”
No bones about it
The discovery was made in old coalmines on the Darling Downs.
Instead of bones, it was footprints in stone, much like the famous Lark Quarry stampede site in western Queensland.
“In this case, the underground miners were digging for coal, which is Jurassic-aged ancient swamp vegetation the dinosaurs would have walked on,” Dr Romilio explained.
The largest track is 80cm in length.
“It is a large bird-like footprint,” Dr Ramilio said.
“When the miners removed the coal, what was left on the ceiling was prehistoric sand, now turned to sandstone, that covered the footprints.
“The name of the footprints are Kayentapus.
“It’s a shape found in Africa and the US, and tend to be Jurassic-age footprints.
“Other prints found at these sites include small predatory dinosaurs [Anchisauripus], and stegosaurus tracks [Garbina].”
Dr Romilio said the tracks were discovered in the 1950s and 60s.
“They were reported on in newspapers at the time,” he said.
“But they had never been scientifically described and were left in drawers for decades.”
Dr Romilio said his investigations had relied on museum specimens and archival photos.
“As palaeontologists, we know an animal only gets one skeleton but it can make many more footprints,” he said.
“Some are plaster casts made at the time of discovery, but some are chiselled out of the sandstone ceiling from the mine.”
The ‘holy grail’ for research in southern Queensland is a skeleton.
“We’d really like some bones,” Dr Romilio said.
“But for me, because I research fossilised footprints, what I’m really interested in is additional footprints the community might have out there.”
“If people have physical evidence, or photographs, or even an oral account, it can all be relevant.”
‘Wonderful’ addition to Jurassic literature
Professor John Long from Flinders University said the findings in the research paper were exciting.
“We’ve found Australia’s largest meat-eating theropod dinosaur,” he said.
“That’s certain by the size of these very large footprints.”
He said the findings helped fill in gaps in the knowledge of the types of dinosaurs living in Australia during the Jurassic period.
“We know very little about dinosaurs of that age in Australia for the whole of the continent, so this is a wonderful addition to the literature,” he said.
The Jurassic period is famous for when dinosaurs reached their peak, with many examples found overseas.
“Anything like this adds new information on what kinds of dinosaurs were living here, and what the food chain was like,” Professor Long said.
“It’s almost certain the dinosaurs that left these giant footprints in the collieries of southern Queensland were hunting beasts like Rhoetosaurus [discovered in Roma] as their main food.
“It puts Australia in the league of big players when it comes to big dinosaurs.”
He said the lack of bones did not mean a lack of evidence.
“You can learn a lot from a footprint,” Professor Long said.
“We know how it walked, whether it was running. Trackways and footprints give us a window into the life of the animal and studying its behaviour.”
And on the time between discovering the footprints to identifying them, Professor Long had a simple explanation.
“Back in the 1950s we had very few palaeontologists in Australia,” he said.
“I’d say these prints were collected because they looked like interesting fossils, and then stored in the museum, and it’s only recently we’ve had experts looking at the footprints in detail.”
Posted 18 Jun 202018 Jun 2020, updated 18 Jun 2020