Experts question Utah ‘dinosaur dance floor’ |

Experts question Utah ‘dinosaur dance floor’

Mike Stark
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

SALT LAKE CITY ” So maybe there was no dinosaur dancing after all.

A group of paleontologists says there are no signs of dinosaur tracks at a remote spot along the Utah-Arizona border that previously had been described by University of Utah geologists as a “dinosaur dance floor” for its density of tracks.

“We didn’t observe a single footprint,” said Andrew Milner, paleontologist at the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm in southwestern Utah.

He was one of four paleontologists who hiked into the area last week following a heavily publicized study claiming there were more than 1,000 previously unknown dinosaur tracks crammed onto a 3/4 acre site on the Arizona portion of Vermillion Cliffs National Monument.

“We went up there optimistic, really hoping we were going to find footprints,” Milner said Friday.

They quickly determined there were none. Instead, it was a dense collection of erosion-caused potholes in the sandstone, they said.

And the supposed tail-drag marks in the rock? Probably another result of erosion, the paleontologists said.

Marjorie Chan, the University of Utah researcher who co-authored the “dinosaur dance floor” study, said she’s open to the paleontologists’ views and says she’ll team up with other researchers for another examination of the site.

“I’m interested in the truth no matter what the outcome is,” Chan said.

The study authored by Chan and graduate student Winston Seiler sent a ripple of excitement among dinosaur enthusiasts: the prospect of scores of footprints providing valuable clues about dinosaurs 190 million years ago, when vast stretches of the West were a Sahara-like desert.

The study was published in the October issue of Palaios, a peer-reviewed international journal of paleontology.

Some who reviewed the study before it was published raised the possibility that the tracks were actually potholes, but Chan said she thought she and Seiler made compelling counter-arguments.

For the dinosaur-experts who investigated the site Oct. 30 ” including two from the Bureau of Land Management ” the results were clear and worthy of more analysis.

“There simply were no tracks or real track-like features at this site,” Brent Breithaupt, director of the University of Wyoming’s Geological Museum, said in a statement from the University of Utah. “We will be investigating the formation of these features in the upcoming study.”

Alan Titus, a BLM paleontologist at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, also visited the site. He said it was quickly clear that depressions in the ground weren’t in a discernible pattern, like might be seen with animal tracks. There was also no sign beneath the holes that they had been disrupted by the weight of a dinosaur and no indication of toes, pads or claws.

“I’ve seen lots and lots of tracks,” Titus said, adding that he has no doubts about the potholes. “Not even the slightest.”

The University of Utah publicly announced the disagreement on Friday because the initial findings were widely reported in media and the BLM had gotten several calls of people wanting to visit the site.

Titus said their findings aren’t an attempt to disparage Chan, whom he called a “top-notch geologist and sedimentologist.”

In fact, he said it could lead to more collaborative studies about the nature of potholes and dinosaur tracks.

Also, paleontologists who visited the area last week said they found several other dinosaur track sites in the area that were previously unknown.

Chan and Seiler said they are not retracting their study but acknowledge there are strong arguments that the features are potholes, not dinosaur tracks. If they are potholes, Chan said, they are unusual and worthy of more study

If the paleontologists turn out to be correct, it wouldn’t be the first time a scientific conclusion had to be revised. The scientific process is one of discovery, interpretation, reinterpretation, theories and counter-theories.

“This is how science works,” Chan said.

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