Sheffield on track for a walk with dinosaurs

February 21, 2003

Scientists are exploring a new frontier of palaeontology, dinosaur footprints, with the help of a device that simulates in the lab tracks found on the Yorkshire coast near Whitby.

Through analysis of footprints, scientists hope to build three-dimensional models that reveal how tracks were formed and preserved and show the action of the dinosaur foot that made it.

"This is a relatively new frontier of palaeontology," said Simon Jackson of the Dinosaur Track Research Group at Sheffield University, who designed the simulator. The tracks could reveal much about the types of dinosaurs in a region, their behaviour, gait and environment, he added.

A silicone replica of a dinosaur foot has been made using information from living relatives, mainly ratite birds. The strong, flexible silicone mimics soft tissue.

Mr Jackson said: "The team has focused on dinosaur footprints from the Middle Jurassic strata (formed 160-180 million years ago) of the Yorkshire coast, for which little bone material is known. Recent work has revealed that the tracks are far more numerous than were once thought, and they have begun to reveal the distinct fauna that existed there. Much of this data would be unsupported by body fossils, which are less likely to be preserved."

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