While NASA has been searching the vast expanse of space and its constituents, the land beside NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has been keeping a secret hidden within the layers of soil and rock. This secret was accidentally discovered by an amateur palaeontologist named Ray Stanford who is also an expert in locating dinosaur tracks. In the year 2012, the palaeontologist visited the Goddard Space Flight Center to drop his wife who worked at the same. His eyes caught the glimpse of a particular piece of rock that was similar to another he found years before containing a footprint of dinosaur.
The tip of the rock was extracted from the hill and the researchers landed with a large 8.5-foot long rock slab made of sandstone that contained not one, not two, but more than 70 tracks of mammals from different species that included varieties of dinosaurs as well.
A data analysis of the rock revealed that it existed from a time that was about 100 million years prior today. It has been tagged as the largest ever concentration of tracks found on a single slab of rock. The in-depth analysis of the rock was performed by researchers from both Standford and Goddard along with Calvert Marine and the University of Colorado. It was published in the journal named Scientific Reports.
Martin Lockley, co-author of the study explained that the concentration of tracks by mammals on the slab is higher than any found at different sites all over the world. He described this rock as the “Mother Lode of Cretaceous Mammal Tracks”. It is one of the two sites ever found with such great density of tracks. Researchers further studied the stone slab and estimated that it belonged as a part of some muddy riverbank.
The spot saw many mammals crossing the area in a time span of few hours or maybe a couple of days. This means it could have been a feeding ground for the mammals that were most likely hunting their food like grubs and worms. The tracks also included the ones from mammals similar to squirrels that sat on the rock supported by its haunches. The imprints also comprised of larger mammalian prints that proved that the Cretaceous period didn’t just consist of critters or small animals.
Apart from the footprints from the vegetarian counterparts of dinosaurs, the slab also consisted of four pairs of prints from theropod species that swept the area hunting for the vegetarian mammals. The tracks also include ones from baby nodosaur which is present close to a footprint by the long-necked variety of sauropod. Apart from the land dwellers, the tracks also included ones from the flying pterosaurs. Not just tracks, the slab also contained residual remains of coprolite which is a form of fossilised poop.
This is a major discovery that might open up significant insights into the world during Cretaceous period that existed between the time span of 79 million years to 145 million years prior today. The era housed varieties of species that thrived in the warm climate with shallow seas that do not exist anymore. The fact that the tracks were discovered close to the space agency suggests that maybe the first signs of ancient life forms the researchers find would be close to home rather than the outer space.