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Dinosaur footprints found at restaurant courtyard

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Last year, a listener who was 8 years old reached out to tell us about a glaring problem with our news coverage. Here's Leo in Minneapolis.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LEO: I listen to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED in the car with mom. I never hear much about nature or dinosaurs or things like that. Maybe you should call your show Newsy Things Considered since I don't get to hear about all the things, or please talk more about dinosaurs and cool things. Sincerely, Leo.

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Well, Leo, this next story is for you because paleontologists in southwest China have discovered a new set of footprints, which they say belong to two dinosaurs that walked the planet some 100 million years ago.

SHAPIRO: Scott Persons is a paleontologist at the College of Charleston. He's worked with the Chinese scientists who made this discovery, though he was not involved in this particular find.

SCOTT PERSONS: I would say that right now, China, in particular with regards to dinosaur footprints, is undergoing a fossil renaissance. A lot of new and exciting spots are being discovered.

SUMMERS: OK, this is where the story gets especially interesting. These tracks weren't discovered in some remote patch of desert. An observant diner spotted them at a restaurant, embedded in the stone floor of the courtyard.

PERSONS: I have to say, I've never gone to a restaurant to discover dinosaur tracks.

RILEY BLACK: I think it's super rad that people found dinosaur tracks outside of a restaurant. Just the fact that somebody noticed this and called it out I think is pretty great. And it's a reminder that the fossil record is all around us.

SHAPIRO: Riley Black is a paleontologist and science writer.

BLACK: Even sometimes when they go on walks around Salt Lake City, a lot of the sidewalks that we have out there are made from early Jurassic Sandstone. And I haven't seen a dinosaur in there yet, but you'll see little tracks made by proto-mammals and scorpions and spiders that were crawling all over these sand dunes. So there's really a whole sort of urban paleontology.

SHAPIRO: And as for the dino tracks in the restaurant courtyard, Chinese paleontologist Xing Lida was called in to investigate. He told CNN that his team used a 3D scanner to confirm that the imprints were left by sauropods.

SUMMERS: And if you are not a dinosaur buff like Leo, sauropods were plant-eaters with small heads and long necks and tails, and they were monstrous. Riley Black referred to them as the heavyweights of the dinosaur world.

BLACK: All these dinosaurs hatched out of eggs that were about the size of a grapefruit. So they were kind of like popcorn to the carnivores of their time. Their whole game plan, evolutionarily speaking, was to eat a whole bunch of plants and get big as fast as possible.

SHAPIRO: Now fossil footprints might not seem quite as cool as skeletons and bones, but to paleontologists, they provide a unique glimpse into how dinosaurs lived.

BLACK: Tracks are fossilized behavior. That is the motion of a living animal. And usually, tracks are some of the only evidence that we have of dinosaurs' social behavior.

SUMMERS: Their behavior in this case may have involved munching their way through their lush, green world because, Black says, these types of dinos ate constantly to maintain their size. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.