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Biology Articles » Paleobiology » Paleoichnology » New Evidence From Dinosaur Footsteps Show Massive Herds Once Roamed Northern Alaska

New Evidence From Dinosaur Footsteps Show Massive Herds Once Roamed Northern Alaska

Fairbanks, Alaska - A joint University of Alaska Fairbanks/Anchorage expedition team has discovered a significant variety of single dinosaur footprints and sets of prints, or trackways, on Alaska's North Slope.

Faculty and students from the University of Alaska Museum along with team members from the UAF and UAA geology departments collected casts and impressions of five different types of dinosaurs in the foothills of Alaska's Brooks Range during the summer 1998 field season. A total of 13 new track sites were located along a 75-mile stretch of the Colville River in National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The presence of the newly discovered tracks, trackways and trampled surfaces are at least 25-million years older than the well-known dinosaur bone beds farther to the north. This discovery provides the first direct evidence that dinosaurs were numerous and diverse in the Arctic 90-110 million years ago.

Previously, there was only one, poorly documented trackway on the Alaskan Peninsula. "This summer, we found dinosaur tracks from meat and plant eating, duckbilled and armored dinosaurs," said Roland Gangloff, curator of earth sciences at the UA Museum. "Now we know dinosaurs flourished in Alaska even earlier than our previous work had indicated," he said.

The largest track is 18 inches long and contains three large toe impressions made by a carnivorous dinosaur, possibly a member of the tyrannosaur family.

"The most surprising thing was finding four-toed tracks suggestive of armored or horned dinosaurs," said Gangloff. "We also found tracks that showed the pebbly texture of the animal's skin, which are extremely rare."

Most of the tracks found are three-toed and represent the movements of the early duckbill dinosaurs or their ancestors. One of the tracks is yet to be identified. The mystery footprints, discovered and repeated throughout the middle of the trackway, are smaller, oval in shape and lack toe impressions.

The trackways provide evidence for the migration of these animals from Asia to North America during early Cretaceous time. "These beasts were trampling their way across Alaska. It is what we expected, and now we have some conclusive evidence," Gangloff said.

These new dinosaur finds combined with discoveries near Ocean Point establish Alaska as the premier high latitude dinosaur region of the world. After the material has been thoroughly documented, a part of the collection will be exhibited at the University of Alaska Museum in Fairbanks and the Alaska Museum of Natural History in Eagle River.

This project was funded in part by the UA President's Special Projects Fund, the UA Museum's Geist Fund, with logistical support by Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., the Kuukpik-Carlisle Corp., the Northern District of BLM, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-Alaska. Principal Investigators in the project are Gangloff, UAA geology professor emeritus Anne Pasch, and UAF student Kevin May.

University Of Alaska Fairbanks. September 1998.


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