National Heritage List inscription date 20 July 2004
About 95 million years ago in what is now the heart of Queensland, around 180 small dinosaurs fled across a mudflat from a huge stalking predator. The chaos of their prehistoric stampede is recorded for eternity at a unique fossil site 100 kilometres south west of Winton.
The Dinosaur Stampede National Monument houses the world’s only known site of a dinosaur stampede where numerous dinosaurs are recorded running in a single direction. Preserved in stone, the site was first discovered by a local station manager fossicking for opals in the 1960s. Glen Seymour thought he had found a few fossilised bird tracks and it wasn’t until scientists visited the area in 1971 that the footprints began to reveal their true story.
It is a rare snapshot of a few seconds of activity during the age of the dinosaurs which has become the benchmark for the study of dinosaur footprints and behaviour. The fine detail in the track marks of the dinosaurs, and the concentration of the tracks in such a small area, also contribute to their status as ‘rare’.
Click an image for a larger view.
Walking with dinosaurs
The footprints and their interpretation informed the stampede scenes in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park and the BBC’s award-winning 1999 series Walking with Dinosaurs.
It appears that a mixed group of between 170 to 200 hollow-boned, two-legged chicken-sized carnivorous dinosaurs (Skartopus) and bantam to emu-sized herbivorous dinosaurs (Wintonopus) were hanging around the mudflat. They were disturbed by the arrival of one much larger carnivore, a 10 metre long theropod with 50 centimetre feet named Tyrannosauropus. As they fled the site they left thousands of footprints in the surrounding mudflat.
Not long after the incident (and before the mud had time to dry), the water level rose thanks to a fortuitous flood event, covering the footprints with sandy sediments. Over millions of years the footprints were buried beneath sand and mud as the lake and river levels continued to rise and fall. Then over thousands of years the rich river plain with its sandy channels, swamps and lush lowland forest dried up. The sediment covering the footprints was compressed to form the rock that exists today.
Clues to the past
Lark Quarry is now a dry landscape of spinifex and lancewood dotted across gullies and steep escarpments. Along with the preserved record of the stampede, the arid setting also reveals information about the nature and extent of the local late Cretaceous environment in which the dinosaurs lived. The interpretation of this palaeoenvironment provides evidence of a former, much wetter climate in this dry area of Queensland.
The site today is part of Lark Quarry Conservation Park and a permanent shelter has been erected to protect the fossils.
National Heritage listing of the Dinosaur Stampede National Monument ensures this remarkable insight into the movement, size and shape of these fascinating creatures is protected and managed for future generations.