Field of Science

New Triassic themed blog and another earliest dinosaur claim

I just recently became aware of this relatively new blog "The Life of Madygen" which has featured several posts on Triassic paleontology. Check it out. One recent post discusses purported sauropodomorph dinosaur footprints from Middle Triassic rocks near Bernberg Germany (also see this related article and my earlier post). If indeed attributable to dinosaurs, this find would represent the earliest occurrence of dinosaurs in the world; a claim which would need some accompanying body fossils to it back up, given the wide variety of Triassic critters that could hypothetically create a "dinosaur" track. One of the more outspoken critics of the claim seems to be Dr. Hartmut Haubold, an archosaur track specialist, who stated "It's ridiculous, it's as if someone found a 10-million-year-old stone and claimed it was a hand axe made by humans." "Dinosaurs didn't come into existence until a good 15 million years later" than these tracks. Haubold believes the trackmaker is Cheirotherium, which has been attributed to crocodile-line archosaurs such as "rauisuchians" (who do have body fossils preserved in Middle Triassic deposits).

Whereas I consider tracks to provide important information regarding the fossil record, especially information about the "living animal" that bones alone cannot preserve, I feel that claims such as these should only be made in concert with other lines of evidence, especially body fossils. I am reminded of a talk I saw a few years ago where it was stated that based on track evidence, the most common animal in the Late Triassic fauna of North America were sauropods. I found this claim quite perplexing given that not even a single bone of a sauropodomorph has ever been found in rocks of this age.

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