Gigantic dinosaur footprints preserved in an outback creek bed have been saved from the floods that have ravaged western Queensland.
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Hailed by palaeontologists as the best-preserved sauropod track in Australia, the small town of Winton hopes the discovery will help secure its future.
The tracks were found at Karoola, a property about 90 minutes drive from Winton in central-west Queensland.
Winton Mayor Gavin Baskett said the tracks were "right in the guts" of the worst-hit flood areas but were removed before disaster struck.
"It was just fantastic that they could be taken out of the ground - otherwise they may have been lost for another 100 or a 1000 years with the silt and dirt from the floodwater," he said.
The tracks are preserved on a rock shelf at the bottom of a small creek and extend over an area about the size of two basketball courts.
Palaeontologists believe the footprints were made by three different dinosaurs.
One was a tiny insect-eater that scampered around on two legs; another was a slightly larger two-legged animal that ate plants.
The third was a sauropod -- a massive, lumbering, four-legged herbivore.
Sauropods grew almost 40 metres in length and weighed up to 100 tonnes.
But the preserved footprints, which span almost a metre across, are believed to be from a smaller specimen estimated to have been 18m long with a weight of 30 tonnes.
Australian vertebrate palaeontologist Dr Stephen Poropat, of Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, leads the research team at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum.
Dr Poropat said that having three major dinosaur groups - sauropods, ornithopods and theropods - on the same trackway surface was incredibly rare.
He said the longest sequence of sauropod footprints could be followed continuously for more than 40 metres.
"These footprints are the best of their kind in Australia and their shape can be distinguished from all known sauropod footprints worldwide," he said.
Mayor Baskett said the footprints could help save his struggling town, and urged tourists to head west for a brush with the dinosaurs.
"Don't turn your backs on the bush. We need your help now more than ever. Without it, Winton won't be on the map in two years time."
Australian Associated Press
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