Real Jurassic Park: Researchers find bevvy of dino prints at Denali National Park

Fans of the film Jurassic Park likely remember the hadrosaurs featured in the film – the duck-billed dinosaurs that were famously stampeding away from T-rex. Well, if you’re a fan of the hadrosaur, you might want to make your way to Alaska’s Denali National Park: Paleontologists, including one from the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, have discovered a new track site positively brimming with hadrosaur footprints.

The find lends credence to the notion that hadrosaurs lived and traveled in multi-generational herds and thrived in the ancient (much warmer) polar ecosystem.

“Without question, Denali is one of the best dinosaur footprint localities in the world, but what we found that last day was incredible – so many tracks, so big, and so well preserved,” said lead author Anthony R. Fiorillo, Ph.D., the Perot Museum’s curator of earth sciences. “Many had skin impressions so we could even see what the bottom of their feet looked like. And there were lots of invertebrate traces – the tracks of bugs, worms, larvae and more – which were important to us because they showed an ecosystem existed during the warm parts of the years.”

The researchers say the find presents an excellent picture of the region’s climate at the time as compared to present day. Back then, the polar ecosystem was much warmer than it is now, as evidenced by the tracks and the remains of the creatures found within them.

Because the tracks are so well-preserved, the team was able to measure and identify four distinct classes of Hadrosaurids present at the site: adults, sub-adults, juveniles and very young individuals. This demonstrates that not only did they live in herds, but the herds stuck together, raising families during what the scientists describe as a period of rapid growth for the species.

“We were so excited when we found tiny, baby footprints, because we instantly knew this was the evidence to support the polar hadrosaurs survived through winters and lived as a herd to protect each other like other mammals do,” said oshitsugu Kobayashi, Ph.D., of the Hokkaido University Museum and a co-author.

Fiorillo is now back in Alaska, where he intends to continue research in Denali through the end of the month. Casts from the initial excavation are already on display in the Perot Museum’s Museum’s T. Boone Pickens Life Then and Now Hall, along with videos documenting the paleontologists’ journey.