Lara Sciscio, Emese M. Bordy, Mhairi Reid & Miengah Abrahams (2016)
Sedimentology and ichnology of the Mafube dinosaur track site (Lower Jurassic, eastern Free State, South Africa): a report on footprint preservation and palaeoenvironment.
Footprint morphology (e.g., outline shape, depth of impression) is one of the key diagnostic features used in the interpretation of ancient vertebrate tracks. Over 80 tridactyl tracks, confined to the same bedding surface in the Lower Jurassic Elliot Formation at Mafube (eastern Free State, South Africa), show large shape variability over the length of the study site. These morphological differences are considered here to be mainly due to variations in the substrate rheology as opposed to differences in the trackmaker’s foot anatomy, foot kinematics or recent weathering of the bedding surface. The sedimentary structures (e.g., desiccation cracks, ripple marks) preserved in association with and within some of the Mafube tracks suggest that the imprints were produced essentially contemporaneous and are true dinosaur tracks rather than undertracks or erosional remnants. They are therefore valuable not only for the interpretation of the ancient environment (i.e., seasonally dry river channels) but also for taxonomic assessments as some of them closely resemble the original anatomy of the trackmaker’s foot. The tracks are grouped, based on size, into two morphotypes that can be identified as Eubrontes-like and Grallator-like ichnogenera. The Mafube morphotypes are tentatively attributable to large and small tridactyl theropod trackmakers, possibly to Dracovenator and Coelophysis based on the following criteria: (a) lack of manus impressions indicative of obligate bipeds; (b) long, slender-digits that are asymmetrical and taper; (c) often end in a claw impression or point; and (d) the tracks that are longer than broad. To enable high-resolution preservation, curation and subsequent remote studying of the morphological variations of and the secondary features in the tracks, low viscosity silicone rubber was used to generate casts of the Mafube tracks.