Where dinosaurs walked

IPFW’s James Farlow walks, too

By Connie Haas Zuber
For about three weeks in July and August, IPFW’s Dr. James Farlow walked along the Paluxy Riverbed in Texas’s beautiful hill country, leading a team of researchers on a dig partially funded by the National Geographic Society.

Now that he’s home, the real work begins. His students will share in the analysis of the data collected at the Glen Rose site, which “contains some of the best-preserved, most famous fossilized dinosaur footprints in the world,” he said. This summer’s dig focused on additional sites in the riverbed so researchers could look at patterns of how the dinosaurs were moving and how they interacted with each other.

The interaction is key because the site includes footprints from both sauropod (herbivore) species of dinosaurs and theropod (carnivorous) ones. Studying the 113 million-year-old footprints, first discovered in 1909, not only reveals how all the dinosaurs moved through the riverbed but also how predator interacted with prey.

The dinosaur tracks bring thousands of visitors a year to attractions like nearby Dinosaur Valley State Park and Dinosaur World, according to an IPFW press release announcing Farlow’s dig. It explains that the Glen Rose Formation is a shallow marine-to-shoreline geological formation from the lower Cretaceous period exposed over a large area from south central to north central Texas.

Farlow’s fellow researchers include IPFW’s Dr. Benjamin Dattilo and Dr. Peter Falkingham of Brown University, Dr. Anthony Martin of Emory University, Glen Kuban (an independent researcher), Mike O’Brien of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and others, Farlow said.

He expects to begin publishing results fairly soon.

“Publication of research results is the whole point of this,” he said. “We will be publishing several research papers in professional journals over the next several months and years.

“We got a lot of good data on this trip. Doing the fieldwork is just the tip of the iceberg. The real work gets going when we get back to the lab and try to make sense of everything we did, saw and collected.”

Farlow has worked at the site since 2008, the IPFW press release said. Earlier trips assembled historical maps, photographs and field notes. This summer’s team documented the track sites as they now exist and compared the sauropod and theropod tracks. Farlow is considered one of the leading experts in dinosaur footprints, having published dozens of articles and books on the subject. His most recent book publication was a second edition of “The Complete Dinosaur: Life of the Past,” which is glowingly reviewed as a complete reference for everyone from amateur enthusiasts to serious students.

He looks forward to another new edition — this time of “The Dinosaurs of Dinosaur Valley State Park,” a short guidebook that can now be updated with new information.

“I hope to do a newer, larger edition of this book based on the work we have been doing since 2008,” he said.

Posted: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 10:16 am
Last updated: Mon, 10/29/2012 - 1:50 pm