Dinosaur Footprint Vanishes from a Site near Moab (eastern Utah)

Bureau of Land Management officials responsible for dinosaur tracks to be found on an adventure trail called Hell’s Revenge near Moab in Utah, have reported the theft of a three-toed, Theropod footprint from the site.  The area is renowned for a number of dinosaur tracks and footprints that have been preserved in the 190 million year old sediments.  At least three different types of dinosaur footprint have been identified by ichnologists (an ichnologist specialises in studying footprints and trackways), the prints were made by dinosaurs as they crossed damp sand and this location is one of just a handful known in the world where Early Jurassic trace fossils of dinosaurs have been discovered.

A Picture of the Dinosaur Track that has Been Stolen

The stolen dinosaur footprint (from Bureau of Land Management files).

The stolen dinosaur footprint (from Bureau of Land Management files).

Picture Credit: Bureau of Land Management

The three-toed print, which measures around twenty-five centimetres in length, was most probably made by a Theropod dinosaur.  The Hell’s Revenge trail has about twenty different dinosaur tracks and footprints preserved, it seems that a person or persons unknown chiselled the print out of its surrounding sandstone, the fossil may have been stolen to order, ending up in the hands of a private collector or the fossil could have been pinched in the hope of making a lot of money as dinosaur fossils can sell for thousands of dollars.  Another possibility is that this footprint was stolen by a fossil collector with no intention to sell, merely to keep the specimen in their own collection.

Sadly, such thefts are all too common.  Bureau of Land Management staff have reported a number of fossil and other thefts from public land over the last few years.  In 2012, Everything Dinosaur reported the theft (and eventual recovery) of a set of dinosaur footprints that were removed from an exposure on the Bristol Channel.  In this case, the thief offered the fossils for sale on Ebay and also to a fossil dealer in Lyme Regis.  Thanks in part to the publicity generated by sites such as this blog, the fossils were recovered, but sadly they are now deemed to precious to be returned to their original location.  Instead, these fossil prints are stored in a secure location under lock and key.

To read more about this fossil theft: Dinosaur Footprints Stolen from the Vale of Glamorgan

Commenting on the Utah theft, palaeontologist with the Bureau of Land Management Field Office in Moab, Rebecca Hunt-Foster said:

“They’re priceless to us, you can’t replace them.”

Visitors to the area, instead of seeing a pristine three-toed (tridactyl) dinosaur footprint, can now see an ugly triangular scar left in the sandstone where a section of rock containing the print was removed.

Such thefts are becoming more commonplace, a spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated that fossil thefts of this nature were probably fuelled by the high prices such specimens can fetch on the black market.  Bureau of Land  Management staff have found that a number archaeological artefacts as well as fossils are taken from public lands each year.  When it comes to dinosaur footprints, some visitors attempt to create their own casts using latex or silicon to make moulds, this can often damage the tracks and Everything Dinosaur team members would strongly discourage anyone from attempting to cast their own print.  In the light of the fossil theft, Bureau of Land Management staff have proposed putting up signs to inform visitors about the tracks and to warn them not to damage or deface them.

Dinosaur Tracks and Footprints Provide Information about Prehistoric Animals that Fossil Bones Can’t

A dinosaur walked this way.

A dinosaur walked this way.

Picture Credit: Nancy Stevens (Ohio University, Athens)

The United States has some of the strictest national laws to protect fossils and other ancient relics on public land, taking any such items from public land is an offence and offenders can face a possible prison sentence.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur said:

“It is so very sad to hear of this fossil theft and we urge all our readers to be vigil and to keep a look out on auction sites to see if this specimen is offered for sale.  Let’s hope that this dinosaur track can be recovered and returned to the Hell’s Revenge trail.”

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