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Dinosaur Tracks

Geologist in ACTION
Paw Print
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Location: Near Emerson Middle School, Berkeley, CA
About: You can tell an animal once walked here on this sidewalk when the cement was first wet. While many people and animals have walked over this spot since then, only one animal's prints are recorded. Why? We placed the white piece of paper in the foreground to give you a sense of how big the footprints and how far apart they are. The paper is about 10 cm across. Based on the amount of space between each footprint, was this animal as small as a squirrel, as big as a horse, or some size in between?
Dinosaur Tracks
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Image used with permission from:

Location: Near Hannover, Germany
About: The tracks of iguanodontids and theropods are excellently preserved in this quarry in Germany. These trackways were formed 140 million years ago, when dinosaurs walked through mud on the sea or lake shore. We know it was a shoreline because the ripple-like pattern exposed in this picture is just like the patterns formed on modern beaches. Geologists carefully excavated these footprints so that they could learn how big the animals were and how they walked.
Paw Print
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Location: Near Emerson Middle School, Berkeley, CA
About: Close-up view of animal footprint. Can you tell what type of animal it was? What evidence do you have to support your theory? The ruler shows the size.
Dinosaur Tracks
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Photo courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Copyright 2004

Location: Dinosaur Valley State Park, northern Texas
About: Closeup of the distinct, three-toed birdlike imprint of a carnosaur, or meat-eater, which was the predecessor to the infamous Tyrannosaurus rex. Prints like this one were deposited along the shore of an ancient sea in limestones, sandstones, and mudstones approximately 113 million years ago. Note how big the footprints are compared to the students' hands!

Key Concepts:
  • Sedimentary rocks start out soft and squishy ("unconsolidated").
  • Animal tracks are only recorded while the rocks are soft.
  • Sediments can become hard over time if exposed to higher temperatures and pressures or certain minerals that cement the grains together.
  • Measurements of animal tracks allow scientists to learn about the size, walking technique, and lifestyle of ancient animals.
Links for further Exploration: About the science:
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Classroom Activities:
Common Misconceptions:

Fact: Humans and dinosaurs did not exist on Earth at the same time.

About the misconception: Some web sites claim that human footprints exist beside dinosaur tracks in areas like the one in the Geologist in Action photo above, but these are either misinterpretations or hoaxes. Read about The Beast of Frank's Creek from the National Park Service.

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