Thousands of 150 Million-Year-Old Dinosaur Footprints Discovered in China

Scientists in China have discovered more than 4,300 dinosaur footprints—the most ever found in one spot in the country.

The footprints were discovered over an area of 100,000 square feet in northern China back in 2020 it has been reported. Since then scientists have worked to carry out 3D imaging of the footprints and cast molds of them, according to state news outlet China Daily, which cited the Department of Natural Resources in Hebei.

Li Jianjun, a researcher from the Beijing Museum of Natural History, told the news outlet that dinosaur footprints "play an irreplaceable role" in teaching scientists about how dinosaurs used to live.

"Dinosaur bones become fossils after their death, while dinosaur footprints are left from when they were alive, which provides wonderful insights into how dinosaurs lived," Li said. "They can provide a lot of information about their behavior, as well as information on paleogeography and paleoenvironment."

Dinosaurs
A stock illustration depicts a group of dinosaurs. Scientists in China have discovered more than 4,300 dinosaur footprints—the most ever found in one spot in the country. Orla/Getty

The collection of 4,300 prints from Zhangjiakou, a city in Hebei province, far surpasses the previous record of 900 found at a site in China's Sichuan province.

Having studied the prints for more than two years, researchers now think that they were made by dinosaurs living around the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, when there would have been large forests and water sources in the area. Both herbivorous and carnivorous species could have thrived there.

The Jurassic Period is considered to have lasted from 200 million to 150 million years ago according to National Geographic, while the Cretaceous Period is thought to have lasted from 150 million to 65 million years ago.

In addition to teaching researchers about how the dinosaurs lived, the footprints can also provide information on individual dinosaurs. Highlighting claw-like footprints reportedly caused by tridactyls—dinos with three digits to a limb—Li said it can be inferred that the dinosaurs that left prints roughly 10 cm (4 inches) long could have had a body length of between four to five meters (16 feet). The largest print was 37.5 cm long.

The reason that the prints have survived for around 150 million years is that they were left in fine, pebbly sandstone and were also covered by thick volcanic ash that helped preserve them.

The announcement from China comes just days after the discovery of more than 1,000 dinosaur footprints in a small town in Chile.

Scientists from the Geology School of the Universidad Mayor in Santiago, the country's capital, went to the town of Huatacondo to investigate reports of dinosaur footprints from the local community.

From May 23 to June 3, the scientists found more than 1,000 prints from newborn, juvenile, and adult sauropods, a type of four-legged dinosaur, as well as prints from adult theropods, which are a broad group of two-legged dinosaurs including velociraptors. Again, some were dated as far back as 150 million years.

For the Chinese scientists, research of the thousands of footprints in Zhangjiakou is ongoing.