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Dinosaur “Coliseum” Reveals Prehistoric Pathway

Morning light image of one end of the Coliseum track site. Each of the hundreds of visible depressions (dimples) are dinosaur tracks.
Morning light image of one end of the Coliseum track site. Each of the hundreds of visible depressions (dimples) are dinosaur tracks. Credit: Patrick Druckenmiller

In the heart of the expansive Denali National Park and Preserve in USA, a remarkable discovery has sent ripples through the scientific community. A colossal expanse, equivalent in size to 1.5 football fields, has been unveiled, earning the moniker “The Coliseum.”

This ancient terrain once served as a bustling crossroads for an array of prehistoric creatures, a mesmerizing glimpse into a bygone era some seventy million years ago.

When delving into this paleontological treasure trove, it is important to note that there is no definitive confirmation of whether this site hosted epic battles akin to the gladiatorial spectacles of ancient Rome. However, the awe-inspiring magnitude of this “dinosaur Coliseum” stands as its own testament to the eons it has witnessed.

Trek into the Denali wilderness

The orchestrators of this scientific revelation are researchers hailing from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Following a rigorous seven-hour trek into the depths of the Denali wilderness, they stumbled upon what has now emerged as the largest singular dinosaur track site in the entire expanse of the United States.

Imagine a geological masterpiece resembling a multi-layered sandwich, elevated to a towering twenty stories by the relentless forces of tectonic plate collisions. This geological marvel boasts a vertical cliff face that offers a chronicle of time encapsulated in layers upon layers of imprinted tracks.

Astonishingly, the true essence of this site can remain hidden from the casual observer, with the prints magically revealing themselves under the right play of light.

Pat Druckenmiller, the study’s senior author and esteemed director of the University of Alaska Museum of the North, vividly recounts the initial encounter: “When our colleagues first visited the site, they saw a dinosaur trackway at the base of this massive cliff.” He also said, “When we first went out there, we didn’t see much either.”

However, as twilight cast its enchanting glow upon the landscape, the fading sun highlighted the intricate “dimples” of the prints, unraveling the site’s mystique to the awe-struck researchers.

Formation of tracks

The tracks in the Coliseum were forged during the Late Cretaceous Period when the now-vertical cliffs stood as sediment layers upon a level terrain surrounding a probable watering hole. Geological convulsions, driven by the shifting plates beneath, thrust the ground skyward, folding and tilting it to create a cliff.

What astonishes researchers most is the dual nature of these tracks. Some are the original, solidified impressions left by dinosaurs trudging through the mud. In contrast, others are casts formed by sediment filling the tracks and eventually hardening.

The result is an intricate mosaic that resonates with the footfalls of juveniles and adults, a diverse cast of characters that graced this unique stage over millennia.

Druckenmiller said, “It was forested and it was teeming with dinosaurs. There was a tyrannosaur running around Denali that was many times the size of the biggest brown bear there today. There were raptors. There were flying reptiles. There were birds. It was an amazing ecosystem.”

What did the environment look like?

The researchers also uncovered additional traces of the past: fossilized plants, pollen grains, and subtle indications of freshwater shellfish and other invertebrates. These intricate pieces of the puzzle collectively paint a vivid portrait of the surrounding environment, offering a glimpse into the ecological symphony that once played out here.

Today, visitors are captivated by the site’s natural beauty. However, the Denali of yesteryears was slightly different, a tad warmer, and reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest’s climate.

“It’s amazing to know that around 70 million years ago, Denali was equally impressive for its flora and fauna,” muses Druckenmiller, underscoring the continuity of awe across the ages.

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