Dinosaur footprints dating back 100 million years have been discovered in southwestern China after a diner spotted them in an outdoor courtyard.
The China University of Geosciences’ Lida Xing, an associate professor of paleontology, said several stone pits at the restaurant in Leshan, Sichuan province, contained footprints of two sauropods from the early Cretaceous.
A 3D scanner used by Xing’s team confirmed the discovery on Saturday.
Known for their long necks and tails, sauropods were the largest animals on earth. Their size could be compared to three school buses and they must have shaken the ground as they walked.
According to Xing, the two sauropods that left the footprints probably measured about 8 meters (26 feet) long.
There have been many dinosaur fossils found in Sichuan from the Jurassic period, but far fewer from the Cretaceous period. Dinosaurs flourished during the Cretaceous period, Xing said, adding, “this discovery adds another piece of evidence to Sichuan’s Cretaceous period.”
Xing said China’s rapid development in recent decades has complicated paleontology, which studies ancient life through fossil records.
Fossils are rare in the city because they are all covered by buildings. For fear of “getting destroyed by construction work in days,” his team aims to visit potential discoveries within 48 hours of receiving a report.
The location was a chicken farm before it became a restaurant, shielding the dinosaur footprints from erosion and weather damage by layers of dirt and sand.
Dirt was cleared about a year ago when the restaurant opened. Instead of leveling the uneven stone with cement, the owner left it untouched because he liked its natural look.
Xing said that the footprints were well protected as a result. “When we went there, we found that the footprints were quite obvious and deep, but nobody had considered this possibility.”
According to Xing, the restaurant owner has now fenced off the area to prevent people from walking on the footprints, and may build a shed to protect them further. This is a welcome sign of greater public interest in science.
He said that if it were 10 years ago, nobody would send him photos of dinosaur fossils or footprints. The number of dinosaur footprints I confirm every year has increased largely because I now receive quite a few from regular citizens.