Fearsome Dinosaur That Stalked Australia Was a Timid Plant Eater

Reports of the mysterious tracks made their way out of the mine. In a 1964 paper on the discovery, Henry Ross Edgar Staines, a paleontologist with the Geological Survey of Queensland, and J.T. Woods of the Queensland Museum measured the biggest track at nearly 17 inches from heel to the tip of the longest toe. They declared it to be Eubrontes, a genus of fossilized footprints left by upright carnivores. A plaster cast of the print was placed on display in the Queensland Museum.

After the mine’s closure, that cast and a simple, cartoonlike drawing of the three footprints included in the 1964 paper were the only visual records of the tracks that researchers could access. Scientific publications over the years described the largest print as anywhere from 15 to 18 inches, Dr. Romilio said.

When Dr. Romilio and his colleagues analyzed the plaster cast using advanced 3-D imaging techniques, a number of discrepancies with those earlier accounts emerged. Indentations at the front of the print appeared to be drag marks left by the dinosaur’s claws, not impressions of the claws themselves. A bump near the heel that previous researchers measured as part of the foot was actually part of the rock surrounding the fossil.

Further comparisons showed the tracks shared more characteristics with Evazoum, a genus of plant-eating dinosaur prints, than the carnivorous Eubrontes: an inward-pointing gait, a shorter middle toe, splayed toes and a narrower overall foot. The researchers now believe the largest track is 13 inches long, and belonged to a dinosaur that stood about 4-½ feet high at the hip.

Ross Staines, the paleontologist who first published on the prints, died in 1996. His daughter, Dr. Roslyn Dick, believes he would have welcomed the new insight into his findings.

“My father would have been very thrilled that someone else had taken his work and done more research about the topic,” said Dr. Dick, a Brisbane dentist who said Mr. Staines always kept a geologist’s pick in the trunk of the family car for impromptu fossil digs. “Dad liked things to be well done and appreciated the scientific process to uncover the ‘truth.’”