Palaeontologists cast Doubt on “Dinosaur Dance Floor” Discovery in Western USA

The validity of a site believed to show trackways and foot prints from at least four different types of dinosaur has been challenged by a group of scientists on an inspection of the remote location on the Arizona/Utah border.  The group of palaeontologists visited the site that covers approximately 3/4 acre nicknamed the “dinosaur dance floor” due to the amount of footprints preserved in the sandstone sediments.  They have concluded that there are no dinosaur tracks, only a dense collection of unusual potholes that have occurred as the sandstone erodes away.

To read more about this discovery: Dinosaur “Dance Floor” on the Utah/Arizona State Border

The scientist who led the original research on the site in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument has commented that she is willing to team up with the sceptics in order to undertake a follow-up study.

“Science is an evolving process where we seek the truth,” says Marjorie Chan, professor and chair of geology and geophysics at the University of Utah and co-author of a recent study that described the site as being evidence of “dinoturbation” – the term used by scientists to describe ground churned up by the activity of dinosaurs.  In the original paper, the site was thought to represent an oasis where large numbers of prehistoric animals gathered , several different types of dinosaur footprints were described, along with several strange marks in the ground that were interpreted as evidence of tail drags.

“We went through the proper scientific process of careful study, comparisons with other published works and peer review” of the study by independent scientists, professor Chan added. “We gave the project considerable critical thought and came up with a different interpretation than the palaeontologists, but we are open to dialogue and look forward to collaborating to resolve the controversy.”

A few days after the research paper was published four scientists hiked to the site to investigate this phenomenon for themselves and to see first-hand the possible dinosaur footprints.  The quartet comprised Brent Breithaupt, director and curator of the University of Wyoming’s Geological Museum; U.S. Bureau of Land Management palaeontologist Alan Titus and geologist Rody Cox; accompanied by palaeontologist Andrew Milner of the St. George (Utah) Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm.  The group noted a number of possible dinosaur trackways en route, but were not completely convinced by what they saw at the site, stating that little evidence could be found of dinosaur activity in the “pock-marked” sandstone.

“There simply are no tracks or real track-like features at this site,” Breithaupt commented. “We will be investigating the formation of these features in the upcoming study. Science works best when scientists work together.”

Chan and Winston Seiler, who conducted the research as part of his master’s thesis, say they are not retracting their study, which was published in the October issue of the scientific journal “Palaios”.  But they acknowledge there are strong arguments for the features being potholes rather than dinosaur tracks.  The original study cited the possibility that the features were potholes and outlined arguments against it.  There own research did investigate a number of causes for the strange markings but did eventually conclude that these features were indeed trace fossils.

Did Dinosaurs Pass this Way?

Picture Credit: Roger Seiler

The picture shows part of the alleged dinosaur track way located at Coyote Buttes North, along the Arizona/Utah border.  University of Utah geologist Winston Seiler walks amongst the hundreds of strange marks in the ground, could they be evidence of dinosaur trackways?

Chan says if the features are potholes, they are extremely unusual compared with typical potholes on the Colorado Plateau, their formation still needs to be explained fully.  She is looking forward to working with the other scientists to ensure this location is studied in more detail.

“A reinterpretation could emerge, but those conclusions have not yet been written as a scientific paper and need to be submitted to a journal for publication after peer review by other scientists,” she says.

Nevertheless, the University of Utah geologists feel obligated to inform the public of the difference of opinion because of the fact that information regarding this site had been published in a leading palaeontological journal and that the thesis had received wider publicity.

“The public interest has been tremendous, and fortunately there are many other fantastic, accessible, documented dinosaur track sites than can be visited in the area,” Breithaupt stated.

For Winston Seiler, it would be disappointing to have the site down graded from being a potential location that shows dinosaur activity to one that merely represents unusual forms of rock erosion, but that is how science works.  Theories are put up and then they are scrutinised and tested.  Science is ultimately a search for truth and palaeontology can be contentious and lead to a degree of controversy.  If Seiler’s work is reassessed then he will be in good company as many a famous palaeontologist has had his own work undermined to some extent.  Perfectly sensible and appropriate theories can be discarded as new evidence is unearthed or other scientists provide additional insight.

Article reproduced from University of Utah article published on November 8th.

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