On October 9, 2009, the New Zealand Herald reported that dinosaur foot tracks have been found near Nelson, the northern tip of the South Island of New Zealand. Dinosaur tracks are frequently found here in America and the discovery of dinosaur foot tracks in New Zealand may seem a little mundane to Americans, however what makes this discovery so exciting to scientists is the fact that it is the first evidence of dinosaurs on the South Island of New Zealand.
Evidence shows that large, heavy animals walked across the beach and left their tracks in the sand approximately 150 million years ago. Because of the submersion of the northern most tip of the island under the ocean approximately 20 to 70 million years ago, the footprint evidence would have been covered by marine sediments. When the modern plate boundary lifted above the water, within the last 20 million years, the sediment formed into sedimentary rock and was exposed to erosion. This erosion finally exposed the footprints, which were surprisingly well preserved instead of being destroyed by the tides and wind over the millennia.
The footprints are spread out in six locations over a 6 mile area and in one area there are approximately 20 footprints. The footprints are circular in shape which leads scientists to believe that the tracks were made by sauropods. Not everyone is familiar with the name sauropods, but they are probably familiar with the names Brontosaur and Brachiosaur from the movie Jurassic Park. Brontosaurs and Brachiosaurs are from the genus sauropods. Sauropods vary in size from 13 feet long to more than 130 feet long. They are herbivores, plant eaters, with long necks, huge bodies and long tails. The footprints vary in size and one is more than one and a half yards across which gives scientists a very good idea of the size of the sauropods. Most of the footprints found in Nelson are smaller, from approximately 4 inches across to 8 inches across.
The importance of the discovery of the footprints goes beyond the fact that no evidence of dinosaurs had ever been found in the Nelson area. By studying the distance between the footprints, the width between them and the depth of the track, scientists can make educated conclusions as to the way the animals may have moved, how fast they moved and the sizes of the animals leaving the tracks. It may even be possible to determine if the sauropods moved in a family group.
It is an exciting discovery of some of the largest sauropod footprints ever found. Scientists and dinosaur fans around the world are looking forward to what the footprints can tell them.