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Dinosaur Stampede, the Musical

What caused Australia's dinosaur stampede? A short musical performance suggests an answer

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About 95 million years ago, in Cretaceous Australia, an aggregation of small dinosaurs scurried along an ancient lake margin in what is the world’s only known “dinosaur stampede.” Exactly what caused the dinosaurs to scatter is a mystery. A set of larger tracks, found at the same quarry, have been cast as the footprints of a big predator who was stalking the mixed herd. But, as the rock record shows, this bigger dinosaur passed by at a different time than that of the stampede. And that bigger dinosaur may not have been a carnivore. A recent reassessment of the site raised the possibility that a large herbivore, akin to Muttaburrasaurus, left the tracks. We really don’t know what caused so many little dinosaurs to skitter away, or even come together in such numbers.

Nevertheless, the dramatic imagery of something like Australovenator pouncing on little ornithopods is hard to beat, and the Lark Quarry site–where the stampede is preserved–recently spawned a hyperbolic documentary. Now there’s a musical version, too. At the 2012 Museum’s Australia National Conference in Elder Hall, Adelaide, performers Michael Mills, Amy Donahue, Tahlia Fantone, Morgan Martin and Tom Goldsmith played out their own version of the dinosaur stampede.

Sadly, the performance perpetuates the myth that the stampede was sparked by a prowling carnivore. The truth is that we don’t know. I can’t necessarily blame the creators, though. Singing “You have to run, run, run. You have to hit top speed. Why? We don’t really know. But there’s still evidence of a dinosaur stampede!” doesn’t work quite as well.

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About Brian Switek
Brian Switek

Brian Switek is a freelance science writer specializing in evolution, paleontology, and natural history. He writes regularly for National Geographic's Phenomena blog as Laelaps.

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