Australia: Scientists Discover World's Biggest Dinosaur Footprints

Dinosaur footprint
Researchers Anthony Romillo and Linda Pollard make silicon casts of sauropod tracks in the Dampier Peninsula, Western Australia. The researchers found more than 20 different types of dinosaur tracks. Steven Salisbury

Scientists in Western Australia have discovered the world's biggest dinosaur footprints, measuring 1.7 meters—close to the size of an average American man.

In a study published Friday in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, researchers from the University of Queensland and James Cook University in Queensland documented 21 different types of fossil footprints near Broome in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.

The team believes that the largest footprint belongs to the largest member of the sauropods, a group of dinosaurs with long necks and tails which includes the brontosaurus. At 170 centimeters (5ft 6") the footprints are almost as tall as the average U.S. male (175.7 centimeters —5ft 8".)

The Walmadany area is home to the world's largest dinosaur tracks. Law Boss Richard Hunter and a 1.7m sauropod track

— Steve Salisbury (@implexidens) March 27, 2017

"Most people would be able to fit inside tracks that big, and they indicate animals that are probably around 5.3 to 5.5 meters at the hip, which is enormous," Dr Steve Salisbury, a paleontologist at the University of Queensland and the study's lead author, told Australia's ABC News.

Dr Salisbury was asked to document the footprints by the area's Goolarabooloo Traditional Custodians, a small Aboriginal community in Kimberley in 2008, as part of their campaign against proposals to build a liquid natural gas facility in the region.

The research was conducted across more than 400 hours between 2011 and 2016, the BBC reports. Most of the work had to be done at low tide, since the trackways were usually covered by the sea.

The tracks discovered date from between 140 to 127 million years ago.

"This is the most diverse dinosaur track fauna we've ever recorded," Dr Salisbury told the BBC.

"Twenty-one different types. There are about six different types of tracks for meat-eating dinosaurs; about the same number for sauropod dinosaurs; about four different types of ornithopod dinosaur tracks—so, two-legged plant-eaters—and really exciting, I think, are six types of armoured dinosaur tracks, including stegosaurs, which we've never seen before in Australia."

The footprints vary in size from 20 centimeters to the huge sauropod tracks. The findings mark a new phase in Australia's fossil record; most of Australia's dinosaur fossils come from the eastern side of the continent.

Before the discovery, the biggest dinosaur footprint measured around 107 centimeters and was found in Mongolia's Gobi Desert in 2016.