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News about a set of dinosaur tracks discovered in Wyoming that may change our views of the Mid-Jurassic world.

Below article from The Salt Lake Tribune reprinted for fair use purposes only -- copyright acknowledged.

This Megalania page has been visited times since May 1, 1998.

The Salt Lake Tribune

Copyright 1998 The Salt Lake Tribune

May 1, 1998, Friday

SECTION: Nation-World; Pg. A1

Dinosaur Tracks Arouse Nationwide Interest; Site has paleontologists and geologists rethinking how West looked in Jurassic Period; Dinosaur Site Gets Attention of National Scholars


Thousands of fossilized dinosaur tracks discovered in northern Wyoming, long thought to have been under a shallow sea during the Middle Jurassic Period, have paleontologists and geologists revising their views on the diversity of plant and animal life in the area more than 165 million years ago.

Scattered across more than 40 acres of public land just south of Shell in the Big Horn Basin, the tracks were pressed into mud of a tidal flat and then turned to sandstone.

"Middle Jurassic dinosaurs are known from England, Argentina, China, but we just haven't found dinosaurs in that age [of] sediment in the United States. So that's why it's an important piece of information," said Beth Southwell, a research associate at the University of Wyoming Geological Museum in Laramie.

"This brings us an entirely new interpretation of this little piece of the world during that time, and it rewrites geology, too," she said Thursday.

The find indicates a land mass of considerable size that once was thought submerged by what is called the Sundance Sea, which scientists believe once covered all or parts of Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Utah, Colorado and Nebraska.

Knowing that the sea was not as large as once thought might be just part of the significance of the Red Gulch Dinosaur Track Site, as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has dubbed the find.

A team of scientists from across the country will begin studies of the site this summer. They will try to discern the diversity of life that left the tracks, interpret behavior from the tracks and look for fossilized remains of dinosaurs that wandered North America during the Middle Jurassic Period.

Brent Breithaupt, director of the museum in Laramie, said the tracks were spotted by geologist Erik Kvale from the Indiana Geological Survey. Kvale, who was raised in the area, stumbled across them last September while scouting the area for a field class.

The site was kept secret by the BLM for preservation purposes, but the agency divulged its location in March after word of the find leaked out.

Kvale was traveling on Thursday and could not be reached for comment. Southwell would not speculate as to how many species might be represented in the track segments other than to say some of the tracks probably were left by a 6-foot-tall meat-eater that walked on its hind legs.

How the site will rank worldwide remains to be seen.

"No one can tell you the significance of the site at this point because the work hasn't been done," explained Breithaupt. "At the end of the summer we undoubtedly will have a much better story after we've had a chance to analyze these tracks and figure out what's there."

The discovery has caught the attention of the country's top paleontologists and geologists.

James Farlow, a faculty member at the Fort Wayne, Ind., campus of Indiana and Purdue universities, co-editor of the recently published, The Complete Dinosaur, and one of the country's top dinosaur-track experts, will visit the site. Other researchers will come from Indiana University, the Smithsonian Institution, Dartmouth College, the University of Wyoming and Kansas State University.

Jim Kirkland, senior paleontologist at the Dinamation International Society in Fruita, Colo., wishes he could study the site.

"The Middle Jurassic is an interval of time, for North America, where we have virtually no fossil records of land-living animals," he said.

"That's because the seas were high then. . . . We can't tell you much about how we got to our classic dinosaurs we know of in Utah, the stegosaurus, the allosaurus and the rest because we really don't have Middle Jurassic sediments with dinosaurs in them."

Kirkland said track pathways can point to herding, reactions to other species and nurturing of young. They also might yield evidence of running, something rare at track site elsewhere.

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