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Oldest Reptile Tracks Found



Oldest Reptile Tracks Found
5/17/94

        ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- Reptile and amphibious tracks found in
mountains north of Las Cruces date back 285 million years, making
them the oldest and most extensive in the world, a team of
paleontologists said Tuesday.
        The team from the Smithsonian Institution, the New Mexico Museum
of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque, and the University
of Denver are studying an estimated 2,000 slabs of rock containing
the tracks.
        Spencer Lucas, curator of paleontology at the New Mexico Museum
of Natural History, said the finding was very important.
        ``This is big,'' Lucas said. ``It's world-class because of its
scientific value and what we already are learning from it.''
        The site is in the Sierra Robledo Mountains west of Dona Ana and
north of Las Cruces. So far scientists have identified the tracks
of 23 different animals and about the same number of insects in the
slabs.
        Lucas said all of the animals represented in the tracks are from
the Permian Period and predate the first dinosaurs by millions of
years.
        The site is about 100 million years older than the next-largest
known track site and has far more animal tracks than most dinosaur
track sites -- which typically contain the tracks of three or four
species.
        The site is spread over 6 square miles of rugged canyon rim,
Lucas said. A small portion of the site was discovered several
years ago by an amateur paleontologist.
        Lucas said none of the tracks are from dinosaurs, although one
of the animals identified -- the Dimetrodon, a reptile with a
sail-like fin on its back -- frequently is popularized as a
dinosaur.
        Lucas said the site should be considered for national monument
or park status.