Dinosaur footprints found preserved in rock platform on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road

Tim Wagstaff knew that fossilized footprints of a raptor-like dinosaur had been found near Skenes Creek on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road in the 1980s.

But he had recently been out with his wife, Kate, in search of his own prehistoric remains in the same area, when he discovered what may be the footprints of an unknown new dinosaur.

Mr Wagstaff spotted a type of marine rock plateau which he recognized as being similar to another fossil track site, but it was Mrs Wagstaff who saw the footprints first.

“Kate has better eyesight than me, so she actually found the first two footprints and from there it snowballed,” he said.

The Wagstaffs discovered numerous footprints of various sizes carved into the rock, which they said resembled a “three-legged toe very similar to a modern bird, like the foot of an emu”.

Imprinted in the rock platform are dozens of probable therapod footprints.(Provided: Kate Wagstaff)

“It’s a track with dinosaur footprints stretching about 25 meters on a rocky platform, it would be two meters wide,” Mr Wagstaff said.

On the first day of the search, the pair found an astonishing 60 footprints, but as they returned to the site over the next few days, they discovered more and more.

Since their initial discovery, the Wagstaffs have been on an adventure of discovery that most fossil enthusiasts can only dream of, working with paleontologists across Australia to document and further their discovery.

Kate and Tim Wagstaff discovered more than 140 dinosaur footprints at Skenes Creek(Provided: Kate Wagstaff)

The couple photographed the footprints and first sent them to museums in Victoria for further study, but it wasn’t until those photographs reached Anthony Romilio, who studies dinosaur footprints at the University. from Queensland, that things got really exciting.

“Tim and Kate Wagstaff are actually on the site and they’re documenting it remotely for me,” Dr. Romilio said.

“They take a series of photos of each lead and track and then send them to me. I make a 3D model of it and convert it to a suitable format for documentation by the scientific community.”

Kate Wagstaff revels in watching her husband, a carpenter and painter by trade, revel in the flurry of emails, information and photographs that come and go between him and the paleontologists.

“He’s on a huge high,” she said.

Dr Romilio on the ground in Broome, crouching on rocks near the sunset over the ocean behind
Dr. Romilio in the field in WA documenting sauropod and theropod tracks.(Provided: Damian Kelly)

Even though it’s his day job, Dr. Romilio is just as excited.

“I share with Tim and Kate their excitement, because they’re so excited to be there and find the next thing and the next thing,” he said.

A man crouching on a marine rock platform
Tim Wagstaff on location at Skenes Creek.(Provided: Kate Wagstaff)

140 footprints and counting

Dr Romilio is one of Australia’s few experts in paleoichnology – the study of dinosaur footprints – and he enthusiastically confirmed that the footprints are “absolutely” made by dinosaurs.

Not only that, but there are many more footprints than first thought, and some belong to an unrecognizable dinosaur, possibly a newly discovered species.

“So far the count has reached 140 dinosaur footprints at their particular site,” Dr Romilio said.

He said having so many footprints of a variety of species in one locality was rare and exciting compared to nearby sites which only contained a dozen footprints.

It was, however, too early to know details about which species might have left these historical marks beyond guesswork, he added.

“We can only assume very broadly, we can’t narrow it down to particular species unless we have the dinosaur at the end of the trail.

“Some of the small tracks would have been chicken-sized track makers, while others would have had legs like a very tall basketball player, say legs 120 centimeters long.”

Anthony squats on a fossil.
Anthony Romilio is an expert in dinosaur footprints.(ABC News: George Roberts)

Dr. Romilio is also excited about the possibility of some mysterious footprints made by an unknown carnivorous dinosaur.

Further analysis would be needed to determine whether it was a new species or something that might resemble a dinosaur from another part of the world, he said.

But more than one paleontologist who has seen photos of the footprints has mentioned the name of a particularly ferocious predator whose fossilized bones were found in the Cape Otway area – the Australovenator.

Privileged territory of dinosaurs

Tim Ziegler, head of vertebrate paleontology collections at Museums Victoria, said the newly discovered track was located in “dinosaur prime territory” which was known to be home to a “fearsome predator”.

“If you want to know what was the biggest and most fearsome predator of the dinosaur era in Victoria, well, its remains were found around Cape Otway,” Mr Ziegler said.

A young man looking at a fossil specimen in the field wearing a hat
Tim Ziegler is Director of Vertebrate Palaeontology Collections at Museums Victoria.(Provided: Museums Victoria)

Named Australovenator (“hunter of the south”) because it was a carnivore found only in Australia, it was a large carnivorous theropod that looked much more like a T-rex than its footprints. of emu could not suggest it to the amateur eye.

“From Apollo Bay to further west around Cape Otway, there are many examples of what we call localities; places along the coast where rocks are eroding to expose traces of this environment dating from the age of the dinosaurs.

“Sometimes they’re tracks, sometimes they’re actual dinosaur bones and teeth.”

A huge carnivorous dinosaur walks on large hind legs with small arms
Australovenator means “hunter of the south” and is a genus of megaraptoran theropod dinosaur.(Provided: Victoria Museum/Peter Trusler)

Ziegler said the geomorphological process that preserved these tracks allowed us to tell the story of dinosaurs moving through a very different landscape 120 million years ago, possibly on the hunt.

“Those rocks that form the cliffs there, they were layers of mud, sand and sediment along the banks of huge braided rivers that flowed between, believe it or not, Australia and Antarctica. at the time.

“So that’s where these dinosaurs walked, either singly or in groups, maybe even following their prey.

“Their depressions, that pressure is left behind, the sediment is quickly covered with another layer and then, 108 million years later, something happens.”

Back at the University of Queensland, Dr Romilio says he hopes to include Tim and Kate Wagstaff’s discovery in a trail study he was publishing, a paper that will likely include their names as co-authors.