Footprint Sheds More Light On Prehistoric Alaska

Photo courtesy of Anthony Fiorillo

A recent discovery of an enormous, ancient footprint in Denali National Park is being seen as another indication of how busy the Alaskan landscape was with prehistoric animals coming and going for seasonal food hunting. Anthony Fiorillo is the curator of earth sciences at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas. He says the first dinosaur print in Denali was found in 2005. He says that discovery, now on display at the Murie Science & Learning Center was the tip of the iceberg in terms of realizing how much dinosaur activity Denali once contained.

“Every year we’ve been going up there and every year we’ve been documenting dozens or hundreds of new localities. So at this point it’s safe to say that Denali national park actually has thousands of dinosaur foot prints throughout part of the park,” Fiorillo said.

Fiorillo says the new find, a Therizinosaur track was beyond Fang Mountain.

“Once you cross the sanctuary river and looked to the south side of the road, you would be looking all the way out to Toklat camp and even a little bit beyond that, you would be driving through some of the best dinosaur country, anywhere,” Fiorillo said.

Fiorillo says the feathered Therizinosaur was related to both Tyranasaurus rex and the chickadee, with four forward facing toes and peg like teeth suited for chomping vegetation.

FIORILLO- Another feature of the Therizinosaurs is that they had off their hands these very long claws. So if you put all that together, you have four forward facing toes, these almost knuckle dragging long claws on the hands and a mouth that seems to be adapted to eating vegetation. Also a very wide body, almost cow like if you will. And so you think of a pot bellied, bipedal knuckle dragging plant eating dinosaur and you’ve got it. Not exactly a flattering image but that’s what we think we’re talking about. TOWNSEND- How much would a Therizinosaur have weighed? FIORILLO- Certainly the big ones would have weighed what a Tyrannosaur would weigh which is on the order of a few tons. TOWNSEND- T-Rex had little tiny arms, but these guys had tiny arms? FIORILLO- With big long claws..right. TOWNSEND- How long ago where they in Alaska? FIORILLO- Well the track that we described in our paper is now even better supported because the discovery this summer was that we found several more tracks that we can attribute to this animal. So it’s not just one Therizinosaur being a pogo stick landing once and we never see it again, we in fact actually have several of these tracks now. In Alaska, we have, our best evidence suggest that these dinosaurs lived between 69 and 70 million years ago.”

Fiorillo says the Therizinosaur track will be on display with other Alaska dinosaur finds in the fossil hall at the new Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas. The opening is slated for January 2013.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 24 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori