Multiple Dinosaur Tracks Confirmed at NASA Center

Fossilized nodosaur footprints discovered at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. (NASA/GSFC/Rebecca Roth)

At NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, where some of the world’s most advanced research in space technology is being performed on a daily basis, paleontologists have discovered ancient evidence of dinosaurs on the Center’s wooded campus — at least two, possibly a mother and child, crossed that way between 112 and 110 million years ago and left their muddy footprints as proof.

The tracks of two nodosaurs — short, stocky and heavily-armored herbivorous dinosaurs — have been confirmed by dinosaur tracker Ray Stanford and USGS emeritus paleontologist Dr. Robert Weems. The second track is a smaller version of the first.

The first, larger footprint was announced by Stanford on August 17. When Dr. Weems was called in to verify, the smaller print was discovered within the first, evidence that they were made around the same time and leading researchers to suggest it may have been a mother-and-child pair.

Dinosaur tracker Ray Stanford describes the cretaceous-era nodosaur track he found on the Goddard Space Flight Center campus with Dr. Robert Weems, emeritus paleontologist for the USGS who verified his discovery. (NASA/GSFC/Rebecca Roth)

“It looks to be a manus (front foot) print of a much smaller dinosaur than the first one, but it looks to be the same type,” Weems said of the second track. “If the one that came through was a female, it may have had one or more young ones following along. If you’ve seen a dog or cat walking with its young, they kind of sniff around and may not go in the same direction, but they end up in the same place.”

It’s thought that the nodosaurs were moving quickly since the tracks don’t show strong imprints of the animals’ heels. Still, the ruddy Cretaceous-era mud preserved their brief passage well — even as millions of years went by.

“This was a large, armored dinosaur,” Stanford said. “Think of it as a four-footed tank. It was quite heavy, there’s a quite a ridge or push-up here. Subsequently the sand was bound together by iron-oxide or hematite, so it gave us a nice preservation, almost like concrete.”

The next steps will be to have the site analyzed to determine whether further excavation is called for, and possibly to extract and preserve the existing footprints.

“Space scientists may walk along here, and they’re walking exactly where this big, bungling heavy armored dinosaur walked, maybe 110 to 112 million years ago.”

– Ray Stanford

Read more on the GSFC site here.

16 Replies to “Multiple Dinosaur Tracks Confirmed at NASA Center”

  1. “Torn up by machinery…” I wonder how many fossils have been ground up while excavating coal(s) or other mining ops.? (Tar sands in Canada? Or open pit mines?) I wonder how many fossil beds were discovered and then never explored because some company suit decided it might effect operations/profit margins?

    I’ve found several fossils here and there. They ALWAYS spark a sense of wonder! My favorite find was out on the coast at Salt Point during a fish trip. An exposed pacific plate unit bore the fossilized remains of a fantastic creature! I photographed a fossilized jawbone, 3 feet long X 6″ oval shape, with a row of 6″ teeth! Then I paced off the whole deposit.. or obvious remains. It was about 75 feet long! A primitive Whale? Right next to this deposit was a Nat. American petroglyph carved into an embedded boulder. They must have seen the fossil and thought it was the biggest Elephant Seal ever? The shape enhanced in the stone looked like an Elephant Seal bellowing on the surface. It had been ‘enhanced’ to make those features more predominant. There were also a pattern of lines lightly cut into it’s surface. A map? I emailed the state paleontologist twice, including pictures, in an effort to get someone to come out there to document this find or at least identify it before the ocean surf pounded it to smithereens? No one responded. Then I read where that state budget had been severely reduced, so no wonder? A couple years later I went back to the site with a friend and found that indeed, that whole unit had been broken up and reduced to rubble… bummer.

    On another trip out to the coast.. I found the broken off top of hip socket bone of either a Mammoth or Mastodon? They are known to have lived in this area and the shape was unmistakeably correct. When I first saw it, I thought it was the top of a skull? It even had what appeared to be bone sutures! Kiniwick Man II? The broken off head off a statue? The whole statue? It was totally round and about the same size of a head. It lay 3/4 buried in a dried mudslide at the base of a cliff…right at the surf zone. Seeing that I figured there was no harm in digging it up to see what it was since no relevant dating or other pieces seemed possible. So I excavated for a better look. The dried mud wasn’t all that hard to dig. Examining it more closely I found all the earmarks of a LARGE bone…. discolored where the marrow was once… ligament attachment points and growth marks. I figure It must’ve fallen down the nearby cliff? I climbed around and looked all up and down that 150′ cliff face for a couple three years running – hoping winter rains might reveal more? but have found no other traces/remains. Probably washed down from even higher up?

    Eeyup… quite a thrill every time. Just imagine what it was like back then! The only thing that even comes close to that excitement was when I found a meteorite under my driveway!

    1. I have a good friend who told me of a full dinosaur fossil that was found on his family land when they were excavating for a limestone quarry. Not wanting to have the job halted, they just kept on working, demolishing the whole thing. I’m sure this isn’t an isolated occurrence.

      1. Bummer…. Did they take pics? I oft imagined that somewhere, some guy was driving a D6 grader and might have inadvertently demolished the evidence for an unknown advanced early civilization… or even evidence of an extraterrestrial visitation? ~@; P

    2. I wonder how many fossils have been ground up while excavating coal(s) or other mining ops.

      In general these businesses helps find a lot of fossils in the same way that archaeologists take advantage of city or road construction. Therefore it seems paleontologists mostly have a positive view of these operations.

      That said, there is a need for some regulation to make these things happen on a larger scale, i.e. letting researchers recover what they can of haphazard finds before the business or project moves on.

      What is really destroying finds or whole sites is, what I know, the competition in the form of the collector market. There the interaction can vary from somewhat constructive (amassing finds) to outright destructive (destroying sites or context).

      You may remember the still ongoing conflict over the NY marketed Tarbosaur find that was illegally removed from somewhere in Mongolia (only locale to date), and “prepared” in such a way that context with dating became impossible.

      1. Think here of the sheer SIZE of modern pit mine surface excavators. Think how giant rotating grinding wheels are used in underground mining ops. There’s simply NO WAY those machines are not grinding up the ‘goods’! ‘In a perfect world’ each and every excavating machine would have x-ray or other scanner peering into the ‘soon to be destroyed forever’ substrate ahead and be automatically stopped when a significant fossil is detected.

        When the first Archaeopteryx was discovered in Germany… it was found by workers using HAND TOOLS. Truly a slow and laborious process, but one that did not destroy that find.

  2. “Dinosaur tracks”. So politician type animals sniffing pork around space centers go way back.

  3. Between 110 and 112 million years ago. That’s a pretty narrow window, less than +/- 1%.

  4. It doesn’t even look that special to me. If I saw it I’d just walk right by and think nothing of it. Makes you wonder how many other fossils that go unnoticed. Great find though!

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