Tracking a Dinosaur to the NJSM

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The New Jersey State Museum (NJSM), where I am a research associate, has a new dinosaur exhibit, and it has been placed outside for all passers-by to see. It's an enormous chunk of rust-red rock recently removed from a quarry in Woodland Park, New Jersey, and on its top is the track of a predatory dinosaur which strode across a mudbank around 199 million years ago.

The acquisition of the fossil was a coup for the NJSM. The site where the footprint was found is being transformed by K. Hovnanian Homes in preparation for the construction of new condos, and it is feared that this important site—which contains a intricate geologic record of the time spanning the very end of the Triassic to the beginning of the Jurassic—might be destroyed forever. NJSM scientists and other geologists have been picking over the site on a nearly daily basis to recover significant fossils before they are lost. The three-ton rock was one of the recent discoveries, and the developer agreed to donate it to the museum for display.

So what kind of dinosaur made the track? From the overall anatomy of the footprint it is clear that it was made by a medium-size theropod dinosaur, and the track can be classified with similar trace fossils under the name Eubrontes. Beyond that, however, it is impossible to tell. Traditionally the dinosaur Dilophosaurus has been taken as an appropriate stand-in for these kinds of tracks, but without fossil bones we can't know for sure.

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