Big circles in stone near Broome are believed to be dinosaur FOOTPRINTS.
….. are they the largest tracks made by animals in the history of the earth?
Dinosaur tracks in the Broome Sandstone have been known for decades, and became a tourist attraction at Broome.
These big circles, sometimes dishes or craters, sometimes displaying onion-skin-like peripheral rings, occur at many places from Boome northwards, and have been extensively interpreted as marks left from large dinosaur footprints.
Although there is little absolute proof of this (as large sauropod prints do not leave toe marks like the tracks of the three-toed dinosaurs show (also present at Broome) these structures in the rock are widely accepted as giant sauropod prints – and tourists have been taken to see them as such for a long time. Very similar features overseas are also accepted as sauropod trackways.
The ‘Black Ledge’ occurrence in the bay a little east of Broome was nominated as heritage both to the local (Broome) Council, and also to the State Government (as State significant heritage). Both the State Government and the Council have been slow to act on such nominations though. During the course of doing this I came upon mentions of there being “human footprints” set in stone on or near the shore at two places well north of Broome. Searching for those with Google I soon came upon information that an Aboriginal man (“member of the Broome Aboriginal community”) had been trialled at Broome courthouse in 2000 for having cut out both dinosaur and ‘human’ footprints, apparently using and angle grinder, hoping to sell the items to collectors. There are a number of references to this easily findable, e.g. Amanda James on 22 December 2010 in Australian Geographic ( http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/blogs/on-this-day/2010/12/on-this-day-stolen-dinosaur-footprint-recovered ).
Amanda James stated:
“In 1998, a missing carnivorous dinosaur footprint stolen from a sacred Aboriginal site was recovered. A 120-million-year-old dinosaur footprint was among a series of fossils illegally removed from a sacred Aboriginal site in Broome, WA in the mid-90s. The footprint was recovered on 30 December 1998, its thief charged thereafter, while another invaluable fossil remains missing and shrouded in mystery ….. ‘The subject of illegal fossil trading has not been taken very seriously by the law,’ says Dr Henk Godthelp, a palaeontologist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, who works to intercept the trade of protected fossils from Australia overseas ….. The fossils recovered in 1998 included ancient human footprints from a secret site in the Dampier Peninsula and a single large Megalosauropus broomensis footprint from a sacred site near Broome on the north-west coast of WA. The human footprints have been dated at 7000 years old, while the dinosaur footprint is an estimated 120 million years old”……. This 1997 heist was the second blow in two years to the scientific community, which still hopes to recover rare stegosaurus prints stolen from another site, near Broome, in 1996. Unlike the 1996 robbery, the perpetrator of the 1997 crime was caught. Michael Latham, a member of the Aboriginal community in Broome, pleaded guilty to the theft of the dinosaur and human footprints. His punishment: two concurrent sentences of two years in jail” …….( The stegosaurus tracks stolen in 1996) are thought to be the only evidence of the stegosaurus in Australia. Police were unable to link the two thefts. ‘We have intelligence that those prints were collected to order,’ says Henk. He says that some people believe that a private collector commissioned a thief to take the stegosaurus prints and may have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to acquire them. …. The missing stegosaurus prints have caused dispute between the Aboriginal people who govern the site in Broome, and palaeontologists who study the prints. ‘It was controversial because it’s an inter-cultural thing,’ says Mike Archer, a palaeontologist at the University of New South Wales. ‘There was a presumption that a researcher had taken [the prints] away for study, based on the logical assumption that the prints were worthy of study and that palaeontologists collect fossils'”.
Other accounts differ slightly from Amanda’s. Some suggest that Michael Latham was not so much “caught” as that he surrendered/confessed – apparently after finding himself unable to offload the footprints in rock which he had cut out.
Who has dated the human footprints at 7,000 years? Amanda James did not say.
Amanda James – http://www.linkedin.com/in/amandalynnjames
Re the trial, Tim White in Broome filed this report for PM: http://www.abc.net.au/pm/stories/s102390.htm ( “Fossil thief gets two years jail”), on 22 February, 2000.
According to Tim’s report, “Latham removed the dinosaur print using a portable generator and an angle grinder, with the intention of selling it and the human prints on the black market. But once he had the prints, he couldn’t find anyone to buy them. He made an approach to a collector in New South Wales and offered the print for $250,000 but the offer was refused. When other attempts to sell them failed, he returned the human prints to their traditional owners and the dinosaur print to the police. The human prints have since been returned to the ocean, but the court was told Latham’s failure to sell the footprints was more to do with his lack of contacts rather than the lack of a market ….. Mr Hasluck says the footprints also had a considerable scientific value, particularly the human prints which apparently had dingo footprints walking alongside. He says the fact the footprints have been removed greatly diminishes their use for scientific research” … and needless to add, if the persons Latham gave the human+dinosaur prints threw them in the ocean then that too ‘greatly diminishes their use for scientific research’ — yet the original trackway presumably still exists (minus a print or two)?
The slowness to recognise the (dinosaur) footprints as heritage is somewhat surprising as dinosaur tracks are found off and on all the way up the coast from Broome to James Price Point. They have been ‘threatening’ a major development site at James Price Point according to some. The Weekend Australian Magazine of 27 August 2011 did the following article on this:
Palaeontologist Steve Salisbury says the Broome coastline is unique for the number of dinosaur footprints.
( Photo: Nigel Clarke. Source: The Australian – See more at: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/dinosaur-tracks-fuel-opposition-to-35bn-gas-project-near-broome/story-e6frg8h6-1226122981105#sthash.KmLIfSl1.dpuf
THE footprints are all around me, as large as spa baths or as small and delicate as a modern pawprint. It feels sacriligious to tread on them, even though I know they are firmly embedded in Broome’s orange sandstone. I skip over the smaller three-toed impressions, and leap across bigger, bath-like imprints.
As far back as 130 million years ago, a huge dinosaur lumbered past this spot and left its distinctive tracks. I hastily catch up with my guide, Louise Middleton, as she traces the animal’s giant steps across a wide, pitted rock shelf. Had we been transported back in time, we might have glimpsed a procession of plant-eating giants as they squelched their way across mudflats or browsed in tropical undergrowth. Looking down at my feet, I notice an exquisite, feathery fossil that hints at the fern-like plants that might have surrounded us.
Middleton has spent years combing the rocky shores of the Dampier coast. We squat to peer at the sharp-clawed print of an ornithopod, a two-legged plant-eater. “I was sitting on one boulder the other day, looked up and down the rock platform and realised there were tracks going in each direction for 500 metres,” she tells me.
In the mid-1980s, her late partner Paul Foulkes guessed that dinosaurs had caused the curious markings on sedimentary rock platforms; a keen naturalist, Foulkes had tracked them north from Crab Creek, near Broome, to beyond James Price Point, a distance of about 80km.
Decades ensued in which scientists occasionally arrived to check out the tracks; so did perpetrators of a famous fossil theft. After a WA Museum team filmed footprints at Gantheaume Point, near Broome townsite, in the early 1990s, the media exposure prompted fossil thieves to chainsaw a couple out of the rock.The experience left insiders reluctant to reveal any more information for fear of vandalism. It’s partly why so few Australians know about the Kimberley’s prehistoric riches, apart from the few bird-like dinosaur prints identified in the 1950s at Gantheaume Point.
But “Dinosaur Paradise”, as one researcher describes it, can no longer escape the glare of national fame. For it seems that Kimberley dinosaurs trudged along the very expanse that – millions of years later – is earmarked for Woodside’s $35 billion gas hub at James Price Point.Earlier this month, one of the proposed gas hub’s fierce opponents, Anne Poelina, was pictured in The Australian sitting on a rock near Broome.
When palaeontologist Steve Salisbury saw the photograph, he burst out laughing. “I thought it was quite funny – although I imagine she didn’t realise it, she was sitting on a whole heap of dinosaur footprints. You can actually see the cross-section of them in the rock layers,” he explains. “It illustrates the fact that a lot of people don’t realise what they’re looking at.
Once you do, it changes your perception of that coastline. There’s simply nowhere else like it.”A University of Queensland lecturer and research associate at the US Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Salisbury recently spent a week documenting small expanses of dinosaur trackway between Broome and James Price Point. With Middleton and photographer Nigel Clarke, Salisbury waited each day for low tide to reveal large pavements of rock. It was the week that anti-hub protesters had clashed with police on a barricaded road into James Price Point, but the trio were too excited by what was being revealed to dwell on the conflict.
Recalls Middleton: “I’ve walked these platforms for a long time, but when we went down with Steve Salisbury it was magical. I don’t know if it was visiting in the right light, at the right time of day, but the rocks came alive for us. We were seeing hundreds of prints and numerous tracks, and the water sat like silver in ponds that were huge footprints. Steve said to us, ‘This is just one incredible megasite.’”“We documented it properly,” says Salisbury, “and my intention is to get it published in a peer review journal as quickly as possible so there’s no doubt about what’s there and how significant it is.”
His excitement lies in the breathtaking diversity of track sites. “There’s anywhere around 15 different types of dinosaur tracks along that coast, and often close to that many at a single site. Around the world, rarely do you find track sites where there are more than two or three dinosaurs. So the diversity is incredible.“Some footprints are the first record of their kind in any part of Australia. For instance, there are footprints belonging to some armoured dinosaurs, some of which may be stegosaurs. We don’t have comparable body ¬fossils for either of those [in Australia], meaning there’s no other record for them. It’s the first evidence that these animals ever existed on this continent.“
It doesn’t stop there,” continues Salisbury. “For the sauropod footprints, which are the most abundant in the area, there are none in the rest of Australia.” Sauropods were four-legged, slender-necked creatures up to 30-40 metres in length and weighing 70 tonnes. “Some tracks contain perhaps the biggest dinosaur footprints in the world,” he says.
That so few Australians are aware of the Kimberley’s dinosaur past is as puzzling as the delay in recognising its value. Only this month, the Australian Heritage Council found that the dinosaur tracks “have outstanding heritage value to the nation… as the best and most extensive evidence of dinosaurs from the western half of the continent”. It said sauropods had left prints of “exceptional size and diversity” which represented a unique record of the dinosaur community. The comments were contained in the Council’s final recommendation for heritage listing of the West Kimberley, the largest land area ever nominated for ¬ listing in Australia.
It cited as “rare, if not unique” the fact that Kimberley Aborigines have incorporated ancient dinosaur prints into their cultural stories. Traditional elders say certain tracks are the footprints of Marrala Man, an emu spirit that shed his tail feathers to form fern-like fossils. Twenty years ago, they created Broome’s coastal Lurujarri Heritage Trail that follows the dreaming path of Marrala Man and the roaming dinosaurs.
Salisbury readily acknowledges that he is not the first scientist to describe the vast extent of fossil prints along the Kimberley coast. Former University of Queensland academic Tony Thulborn, author of the textbook Dinosaur Tracks (1990), visited the area ¬ several times.
Thulborn recalled his early findings in a letter to the journal Nature in May. “The trackmakers represent every major category of dinosaurs: Theropoda or predaceous dinosaurs, Sauropoda – loosely speaking ‘brontosaurs’ – and Ornithischia or beaked plant-eating dinosaurs, both bipeds and quadrupeds.”
Salisbury adds that the Kimberley’s fossilised tracks far outnumber those at Australia’s famous dinosaur track site at Lark Quarry, near Winton in Queensland, where both men have worked. “It’s an area the size of a tennis court, with over 3000 footprints on it, quite a dense track site,” says Salisbury.
“It’s National Heritage listed, it’s got a $3.2 million building put over it to protect it, and it’s a major tourist attraction. But it pales into insignificance compared with this.
There are many Lark Quarries along this coast, so the same amount of investment should go into the Kimberley coastline.”
That these issues are being raised amid acrimonious debate over the proposed development at James Price Point has prompted cynicism about timing and intent. Has it all been a ploy to secure heritage status from Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke? Inclusion on the National Heritage List would mean that Woodside would have to avoid wholesale destruction of dinosaur prints, complicating its plans to build the massive gas processing plant and 6km-long jetty.And what about the three reports – commissioned by the pro-gas Barnett state government and Woodside – that claimed few dinosaur tracks of “museum grade” existed at James Price Point? (And if any were found, the reports stated, they could be removed and preserved.)
Thulborn is scathing of the reports, which he says were done by researchers unfamiliar with interpreting dinosaur prints, including geologists and a fossil shark expert. “One might as well expect any trained GP to undertake open-heart surgery or kidney transplants,” he says.
One report described “potholes” at James Price Point, which, says Thulborn, are in fact “perfectly good sauropod tracks”. Near-perfect specimens also exist there, he says, plus a therapod track never before seen. As for suggestions about removing the prints, “it calls to mind those naturalists who would ‘save’ an endangered bird species by shooting the last few survivors and installing them in a museum cabinet”.
In 2009, Thulborn flagged the gas threat to Kimberley dinosaur sites when he addressed an international symposium in Spain. Eighty colleagues from 16 countries signed a letter expressing their concern.
The following week, Thulborn was threatened with eviction from a paleontology conference in England when he tried to muster more support. “They threatened to have me forcibly removed from the venue,” he says. “In retrospect, I should have taken up their offer; it might have generated some useful publicity.”
According to Woodside spokesman Dr Michael Hession, any destruction of prints would be “regrettable but … negligible considering the vastly superior quality of trackways found further south.” The WA government says if disturbing fossils is necessary, “traditional owners and the Western Australian Museum will be consulted on appropriate action”.
Thulborn says dinosaur footprints are not moveable items; nor is James Price Point a location that can be “sacrificed” due to “better” sites elsewhere. He says a wealth of information about animal weight, gait and motion is literally embedded in situ; what dinosaurs ate is revealed in rock-bound catalogues of clearly ¬visible ferns and tree vegetation. “A dinosaur track is a ¬complex four-dimensional object, the outcome of a dynamic interaction between a dinosaur and its environment,” says Thulborn. “It is not just a neat impression in a piece of rock.”
Middleton says she and traditional owners offered to help each survey team, but their offer was declined. “It’s not as if it’s something we made up because there’s plans for a gas hub here,” she says. “We’d concentrated on Gantheaume Point, but with the threat of development we’ve had to start talking about other areas. Yet we couldn’t just jump up and down and say, ‘Hey, there’s dinosaur prints all along the coast.’ We needed backing and recognition.”Traditional owner Phillip Roe says it’s time to bring worldwide attention to the dinosaur footprints. “Woodside has got options – they can pipe the gas elsewhere so why destroy things?”
Regardless of whether the hub goes ahead or not, Salisbury says management is needed to make sure the footprints are properly protected. “Isolation and high tides are all that’s kept them safe over the years.”
“Large sauropod dinosaurs once inhabited the coastal plains near Broome, Western Ausrtralia, about 110 million years ago. By Michael Skrepnick. Various magazine authors have apparently covered the Broome circles and this is from one early article
Broome Hovercraft operator is pointing to funnel like deformation in sediment layering below one of the shallow circular dish like structures which are likely where big dinosaur feed once descended. However, note that in the foreground there is another disruption ‘funnel’ with does not have a visible circle above it. Note the red cliffs of “Pidan” earth. This place is also sometimes called Red Cliff by tourists.
Same place as above, by Nik: “We have done this attraction twice. April 2010 and Oct 2011. The sunset in May was a lot more colourful. The nibblies are basic but very nice – only just enough for the 20 odd people on board. The tour across Roebuck Bay to the dinosaur prints is very informative and interesting. Watching the sun set from the tidal flats in the middle of Roebuck Bay is wonderful. If you are thinking – mud flats – yuk. YOU ARE WRONG. These flats are silky to the toes and DO NOT SMELL. The guide both times was very informed and very friendly. A must do attraction”.
Tourists standing on the circles at the red cliff near “Black Ledge”, Broome. (Photo: Brian Kane)
Site near Black Ledge which is visited by the hovercraft tours.
“Black Ledge Big Dinosaur Impression – Hmmmm Big foot” (Photo: Mark Spark, 2005)
“Black Ledge Dinosaur track – Foot print trail” (Photo: Mark Spark, 2005)
Stated to have been discovered by Paul Foulkes in 1987 – and authenticated by the WA Museum 1990
Showing location of ‘Black Ledge’, near where the Crab Creek road runs south the meet the shore.
Occurences of the big circles in the rock platforms close to Broome (there are occurrences at the red cliffs shorewards of Black Ledge – check also re Ganteume Point, at 500m towards town from Gantheume Point (at very low tide), at 2 km on the far side from Gantheume Point (at low tide), at Quondong as seen at the lowest tide, and also at the town beach down from the old meatworks site.
Anonymous, 2009. Geology of James Price Point, Broome, Western Australia. 7 pp. Geological Survey of Western Australia, East Perth.
Colbert, E. H. and Merilees, D., 1967. Cretaceous dinosaur footprints from Western Australia. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia. 50:21-25.
Dutuit, J.M., and Ouazzou, A., 1980. Découverte d’une piste de Dinosaure sauropode sur le site d’empreintes de Demnat (Haut-Atlas marocain). Mémoires de la Société Géologique de France, Nouvelle Série 139:95-102.
Glauert, L., 1953. Dinosaur footprints near Broome. The Western Australian Naturalist. 3:82-83.
Long, J. A., 1998. Dinosaurs of Australia and New Zealand and other animals of the Mesozoic era. 188 pp. University of New South Wales Press Ltd, Sydney.
Playford, P. E., Cope, R. N., Cockbain, A. E., Low, G. H., and Lowry, D. C., 1975. Phanerozoic. Memoirs of the Geological Survey of Western Australia 2:221-433.
Thulborn, R. A., 1990. Dinosaur tracks. 410 pp. Chapman and Hall, London.
Thulborn, T., 2012. Impact of Sauropod Dinosaurs on Lagoonal Substrates in the Broome Sandstone (Lower Cretaceous), Western Australia. PLoS ONE,7(5) [ e36208. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0036208 ]
Thulborn, R.A., Hamley, T. and P.Foulkes, P., 1994. Preliminary report on sauropod dinosaur tracks in the Broome Sandstone (Lower Cretaceous) of Western Australia. Gaia 10:85-96.