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In the footprints of giant reptiles

Scientists map the beach area of ​​Kvalvågen. Here they found clear traces of dinosaurs that walked along the beach 125 million years ago. FOTO: Hans Arne Nakrem

In the footprints of giant reptiles

125 million years ago a flock of dinosaurs was here. Researchers are expecting to find many new giant reptiles in the future. Some of them are 250 million years old.

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11.08.2014 kl 11:04

During earlier times, there was sand here. Today, the ancient beach in Kvalvågen on the east of Spitsbergen has been transformed into low cliffs and small plateaus. On these rocks many dinosaurs have passed. Never before have dinosaur hunters or lizard diggers found so many footprints in Svalbard.

«The footprints show where it has gone,» said Jørn Hurum. «We will create a 3D model to show how it has moved. It is the first time we have seen such a large collection of footprints in «We know what group it belongs to, we have its stride,» the paleontologist added.

Five meters
The dinosaurs that walked along the beach at Kvalvågen 125 million years ago had a hip height of about 1.5 meters. It measured five to six meters from its nose to its tail tip, was an ornithopod and herbivores.

A track was first discovered in that area in 1976, but was first described in 1978 in a sparse two pages. The site was examined again in 2012 and more footprints were discovered. Last week, Hurum and his colleagues Hans Arne Nakrem and Øyvind Hammer from the Natural History Museum at the University of Oslo, Patrick Druckenmiller from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Snorre Olaussen from The University Centre In Svalbard found 36 footprints.

«We were surprised that there would be no other traces there. It is a new type of dinosaur for Svalbard,» said Hurum adding Svalbard is a playpen for paleontologists since the fossils are not covered by grass, heather and moss. Therefore, footprints and fossils are easy to find.

New ichthyosaurus
There is also a big difference between the east and west sides of Spitsbergen. While paleontologists can study ancient beaches and seabeds on the east coast where it is flat, the west coast rises up. Here they expect to make many dinosaur discoveries in the future.

On Saturday, the researchers announced the discovery of janusaurus lundi, a new ichthyosaurus species in Svalbard, which was found on the north side of Janusfjellet, 13 kilometers northeast of Longyearbyen. It was named after the mountain where it was found – and after Bjørn Lund, a preparator at the Natural History Museum who participated in excavations in Svalbard from 2006 to 2012.

The scientists have only part of a janusaurus lundi, but enough to conclude it is a new species, that it was about five meters long and it had similarities with today's dolphins.

It is also clear that more secrets from Janusfjellet will be revealed.

«We have another five new lizards from Janusfjellet that are coming,» Hurum said. He said he expects to find many new reptiles in Svalbard in the future.

Nordenskiöld
«The research group has developed the expertise to do this,» Nakrem interjected.

This year is the 150-year anniversary of when Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld (1832-1901) discovered the first bare bones in Svalbard. Nordenskiöld came to Svalbard for the first time in 1858, and later led several of his own expeditions here to conduct graticule measurements, land surveying and geological mapping.

During the summer of 1864 he made discoveries near Flowerdalen, and it is precisely here where the research team is now heading for exploration and surveying until Aug. 15. Here they are hoping to find ancestors of lizards that have already been excavated, fossils that are more than 100 million years older than the discoveries in Kvalvågen.

'Like a scratch card'
«The mapping is done by looking for bone fragments and trying to figure out where they have come to rest from,» Hurum said. «The first three to four days are characterized by frustration because you cannot see anything but, as the visual codes are broken, fossils start popping up.»

Along with Nakrem and Druckenmiller, he acknowledged the best finders are the volunteers. Bone collectors are the best to have with him and species found in Svalbard are named after the volunteers. As with janusaurus lundi.

How does a paleontologist feel when something is discovered?

«There's gold digger feeling. Like a scratch card; you can scratch and scratch, and often stop after a bit, but sometimes you get bare bones,» said Hurum, who became known to the public when, at the Natural History Museum in New York in May 2009, he showed the 47-million-year-old fossil of the primate nicknamed «Ida.»

Labyrinthodontia
On Sunday, the team went to Marmierfjellet, where they camped in Flowerdalen As the weather warmed up, they started what is called a fish level.

«It is called the fish level, unsurprisingly, due to the vast concentrations of, well, fish,» wrote Aubrey Roberts and Victoria Engelschiøn Nash, in the expedition's official blog. «Or at least bits of fish, trapped in round, hard nodules of rock. Armed with hammers, the whole group combed the area trying to smash as many as possible to see what secrets they held. But we didn’t only find fishy stuff, we also found a temnospondyl skull: a Triassic long-snouted salamander-like amphibian. An unexpected find!»

You can follow the researchers' blog from the expedition at svalbardposten.no

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Bird-like feet with three toes are typical for ornithopods. These are found in Kvalvågen. FOTO: Jørn Hurum

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125-million-year-old dinosaur tracks on the east coast of Svalbard documented. FOTO: Jørn Hurum

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The skull of a labyrinthodontia hiding inside this stone. FOTO: Stig Larsen

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Pat Druckenmiller with new reptile footprints. FOTO: Jørn Hurum

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