November 18, 2008

Bolivian Farmer Helps Discover Oldest Dinosaur Footprints

Primo Rivera had long wondered about the dents in a rocky hill near his farm in Bolivia. This month, the mystery was finally solved when paleontologists discovered they were actually Bolivia's oldest fossilized dinosaur footprints.

"I used to come to look at the prints when I was a kid ... but I didn't know what had made them," Rivera, 35, who lives in the province of Chuquisaca, told Reuters.

The fossilized footprints are believed to be roughly 140 million years old, much older than others found in the Andean country.

"The footprints we've found are important because they're the oldest ever found in Bolivia ... and the oldest footprints of Ankylosaurus ever found in the Southern Hemisphere," paleontologist Sebastian Apesteguia told Reuters from Buenos Aires.

Apesteguia led a two-week expedition sponsored by Chuquisaca's regional government, and believes the footprints belong to three different kinds of dinosaurs, including the armored herbivore Ankylosaurus.

Apesteguia said some of the prints were about 14 inches long, indicating  the dinosaurs were "medium-sized ...about 30 feet in length."

The paleontologists also found smaller footprints near the larger ones, with the former likely belonging to baby dinosaurs.  This would seem to indicate that the young offspring "were given some kind of care," Apesteguia said.

Rivera said he first saw the imprints about 20 years ago, but could never determine for sure what they were.

A few years ago he visited a dinosaur park near Sucre, Chuquisaca's regional capital and an area renowned for having the largest set of fossilized dinosaur footsteps ever discovered.  While at the park, Rivera noticed that the dinosaur footprints on display resembled the holes near his parent's home.

When Rivera ran into members of Apesteguia's team conducting research near his village of Icla, he told them about the holes.

"It was a stroke of luck that this man had been intrigued by the footprints since he was a child," paleontologist Pablo Gallina, who works for Argentina's Felix de Azara Natural History Foundation, told Reuters.


Image Caption: Illustration of Ankylosaurus. Courtesy Mariana Ruiz Villarreal - Wikipedia