Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Looking At Dino Footprints

Preservation and Erosion of Theropod Tracks in Eolian Deposits: Examples from the Middle Jurassic Entrada Sandstone, Utah, U.S.A.. 2007. J. Milàn and D. B. Loope. J. Geology 115: 375-386.

From the press release:

The authors studied a range of larger tracks from the family of dinosaurs that includes the T. Rex and the tridactyl, and provide a guide for interpreting the effects of many different types of erosion on these invaluable impressions.

“Well-preserved vertebrate tracks in the rock record can be an invaluable source of information about foot morphology, soft tissue distribution, and skin texture,” said Milàn. “However, in most instances, the tracks are less than perfectly preserved, and sometimes they can be barely recognizable as tracks at all.”

With this in mind, Milàn and Loope sought to describe and categorize different levels of preservation. For example, dinosaur tracks may still exist as true tracks, that is, the original prints left in the ground by the dinosaur. True tracks preserve many of the anatomical details of the foot, such as number of digits and impressions of claws.

However, the true tracks may be filled with sediment or the original tracked surface may have eroded away. In the latter case, erosion may expose prominent layers of concentric circles extending from the former location of the true track. These “undertracks” reveal the squishing and displacement of sand when the heavy dinosaur took a step.