Scientists find footprints of giant dinosaurs

Updated: 2008-04-11 10:26

TURPAN, Xinjiang  -- Chinese and German experts on Thursday said they had unearthed a large group of fossilized dinosaur tracks, the largest cluster ever found in China, in the northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

A German archeologist points at newly-found fossilized dinosaur tracks in Turpan, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, April 10, 2008. [Xinhua]

The find, in a small county east of here, consists of more than 150 tridactyl footprint fossils distributed randomly on the slope of a 100-meter sandstone incline.

The largest is 33.6 centimeters long, while the smallest is a mere 11.4  cm. Experts confirmed that the footprints were made by two kinds of large carnivorous dinosaurs, known as theropods. They lived during the Middle Jurassic Period, about 165 million years ago, said professor Sun Ge, a paleontologist at Jilin University in northeast China.

Judging by the footprints, the dinosaurs would have been three to five meters tall, eight to 10 meters long and weighed two to three tons, scientists said.

Dong Zhiming, a professor known as China's dinosaur king, said: "The site not only adds the first record of dinosaur footprint fossils in Xinjiang, but it is the largest Middle Jurassic dinosaur footprint fossil finding ever unearthed in China."

Little fossilized evidence of Middle Jurassic dinosaurs has been found anywhere in the world. Fossils were only excavated in the southwestern provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan, and until now, no fossilized footprints  have been discovered in the country.

The tracks were accidentally discovered by experts of the Sino-German Joint Group on Mesozoic stratigraphy and paleontology last September, but they were unable to proceed with their excavation until the severe winter had passed.

Experts are now wondering how to protect this find. Local authorities in Xinjiang have built roofs and protective siding to prevent weathering and erosion.

The government is also preparing to set up facilities that will give dinosaur enthusiasts from around the world a chance to get a good look at the footprints.

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