Dinosaur Prints Hidden in Cupboard of Suburban House Solve 50-Year Mystery That Has Baffled Scientists

A prehistoric mystery that has been puzzling scientists for half a century can finally be put to bed.

This is thanks to a wealth of dinosaur-related information, which includes a footprint plaster cast stashed in a Harry Potter-style cupboard under the stairs of a suburban house in Sydney, Australia.

Now that the information has been analyzed and published in the journal Historical Biology, researchers have a better idea of the dinosaurs that made a series of prints on a cave ceiling in Mount Morgan, Central Queensland.

The revelation only came about thanks to a chance encounter between a paleontologist and a dentist.

The formation of a series of dinosaur footprints on a cave ceiling in Mount Morgan, has baffled experts. The reason for the confusion lies in the fact that it appears to show the tracks of a carnivorous theropod—a group that included the Spinosaurus, Giganotosaurus and, most famously, the Tyrannosaurus—walking on four legs.

"You don't assume T. rex used its arms to walk, and we didn't expect one of its earlier predatory relatives of 200 million years ago did either," Dr Anthony Romilio, a paleontologist at the University of Queensland, said in a statement.

However, due to a lack of evidence, scientists like Romilio have been unable to prove or disprove the dinosaur's ability to walk on four legs one way or another. Until now.

New evidence suggests the shape of the footprints—which have since been turned into a 3D model—more closely resemble a herbivore than a carnivorous theropod, Romilo says. Specifically, he points out the splayed toes and moderately long middle digit. Crucially, scientists found there were no handprints in the tracks. Each of the markings were footprints.

According to Romilo, the tracks were made by two herbivores, each using two legs, meandering at a pace of roughly 2.5 miles (4.1 kilometers) per hour alongside the shore of an ancient lake. The lake has long since dried out but thanks to the weathering process, the prints remain.

"In combination with our current understanding of dinosaurs, it told a pretty clear-cut story," said Romilo.

But this story could only be told because of a chance meeting Romilio had with Roslyn Dick, a local dentist and geologist's daughter.

"I meet Roslyn at a Brisbane farmer's market," Romilo told Newsweek. "I was selling fruit and vegetables on weekends for a number of years, and she was a regular customer. We spoke often.

"On one occasion I mentioned my dinosaur research from the University of Queensland. Roslyn immediately told me her dad discovered lots of dinosaur fossils."

Dick's father was Ross Staines, a geologist who had spent some time in the Mount Morgan caves in 1954. During his time there, he picked up a vast but unpublished collection of archival material relating to dinosaurs, including detailed notebooks and photographs that have since been digitized.

"We even have his dinosaur footprint plaster cast stored under my sister's Harry Potter cupboard in Sydney," said Dick, who co-authored the paper.

When Romilo discovered Rosyln was the daughter of Ross Staines, his "jaw dropped." He told Newsweek: "I immediately recognized his name."

"A number of years later I visited Roslyn and her family in her home to look at her Dad's archival collection," he said. "Despite the photos being taken in dimly light man-made caverns, the images were high resolution and the fossil footprints were very clear."

Dinosaur Tracks Mount Morgan
The dinosaur trackways on the cave ceiling at Mount Morgan (c. 1954). Ross Staines

The article has been updated to include comments from Dr Anthony Romilo.