I grew up in Chaozhou, a small metropolis in southern China surrounded by mountains and sea. I used to be all the time keen on dinosaurs, and once I was in highschool I arrange the primary web site devoted to dinosaurs in China.
Now, as a professor on the China College of Geosciences in Beijing, I’m additionally lively on social media, with greater than 6.2 million followers on [the microblogging website] Weibo, the place I share updates on my analysis into dinosaur fossils and footprints.
On 11 July this yr, I obtained a Weibo message from a designer referred to as Ou Hongtao. He had been eating within the courtyard of a restaurant in Leshan, a metropolis in southern Sichuan well-known for its historical mountains, and seen oval pits within the stone ground. He despatched me a photograph – they have been common in dimension, and in a row. He had realized about dinosaur footprints from my weblog and needed to know my opinion.
I first advised Ou to ship me just a few extra photographs then determined to e book a ticket to fly to Leshan to see the pits in particular person. I contacted the restaurant proprietor, a backyard designer named Zhu Min, and requested if we may examine.
She advised me that the courtyard was utilized by the earlier homeowners to lift chickens, and the pits might have been the results of the sheds that have been beforehand erected there. The brand new stone ground was dug up by the restaurant solely final yr – earlier than it had been coated in cement. My coronary heart sank. However I needed to see it for myself.
As I approached the restaurant with my analysis group, driving alongside a really unremarkable street, we seen extra ferns, bringing to thoughts the period of the dinosaurs. Zhu and Ou got here to satisfy us there.
I went straight to the courtyard and thoroughly approached these pits. The stone floor was mossy and slippery: I needed to take care to not fall. We have been surrounded by massive banana bushes, a spring and a miniature lotus pond subsequent to a crimson rock wall stuffed with moss.
At first, the pits seemed like abnormal ones you’ll discover on the aspect of the street, the sort you often wouldn’t take a look at twice. Zhu checked out me as if I used to be about to do a magic trick.
I took two laps across the yard. After cautious consideration, I knew they have been dinosaur footprints. They have been common, and fashioned two columns – for the left and proper ft. The pits had two completely different shapes, one for the entrance ft and the opposite for the again ft. No pure components may lead to such a coincidence.
On the opposite aspect of the yard, I discovered one other set of tracks, although not as nicely preserved. I’ve studied dinosaur footprints for a very long time and may survey prints from above, making out who they belonged to, how they walked and the sample of the path.
We had found typical Brontopodus–kind tracks, belonging to these massive plant-eating dinosaurs with lengthy necks and tails. I imagined there have been not less than two dinosaurs strolling by the water. Maybe certainly one of them sped up a bit. Zhu was very stunned. “Now,” she stated, “it actually appears to be like like a dinosaur had walked by!”
The “cement protecting” Zhu had talked about was in reality a mix of lime, clay and nice sand that the earlier proprietor used to pave over the stone floor. He hated the rocks, and needed a floor that allowed his chickens to stroll simply. When Zhu took over the restaurant, she needed to play with the thought of pure magnificence, and so eliminated this higher layer, revealing the footprints.
All of the mysteries have been solved and I relaxed. My group fastidiously studied and measured the footprints. Ou felt very proud, particularly once I advised him that amateurs could make nice contributions to dinosaur research.
This was the primary time that dinosaur footprints have been present in downtown Leshan. This can be a magical land. Footprints from the smallest dinosaur on this planet – the Minisauripus, measuring from 1cm to 3cm – have been present in rural Leshan in addition to South Korea. There have additionally been prints discovered deep in a cave from the Tang dynasty in Sichuan province.
I advised Ou to proceed to seek for dinosaur footprints, and requested Zhu to guard the footprints in her restaurant. I hope they’ll grow to be a landmark, so the kids of town will know dinosaurs as soon as walked by way of their again yards.
As advised to Vincent Ni and Xiaoqian Zhu
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