OPSU scientist excavates prehistoric tracks at Black Mesa State Park

Last summer, Dr. Amy Sheldon visited Black Mesa State Park near Kenton with her colleague from the State University of New York - Brockport, Dr. Judy Massare. As the pair examined ripple marks near a spot overlooking Lake Carl Etling, the natural light changed, and they could see dinosaur prints emerge.

The area was undergoing routine road maintenance, and Dr. Sheldon spoke to the park manager, Ron Mills, and work was immediately halted and traffic was rerouted to preserve the surface. Sheldon asked for and received permission from the Oklahoma Park Service to excavate the tracks. Because the prints are on a slope, Mills and his staff constructed a berm around the area to reroute water when it rains.

The photographs above depict the oscillation ripple marks in the Dakota sandstone where water once stood. Oscillation ripples indicate that a stationary body of water was once present and the foot prints show that a variety of animals were attracted to the water. From the tracks uncovered so far, at least four major groups of animals are represented.

One set appears to belong to an ornithopod, commonly thought of as “duck-billed” or “bird-footed” dinosaurs. Two other sets appear to belong to a sauropod and the other remains to be identified.

Over the summer, students from the Texas County Upward Bound program helped with the excavation and Sheldon also taught a field class there. Plenty of work remains, and she hopes to finish the excavation next summer.

No tracks have been removed from Black Mesa State Park, nor will any tracks be removed. The material belongs to the state and to all Oklahomans and will remain at Black Mesa State Park. Dr. Sheldon said, “We are thrilled to be able to use this site to teach hands-on science, and preserve the tracks so the area can be used as an interpretive center in the park.”

Mills added, “The excavation of these tracks directly benefits Black Mesa State Park, and we are thrilled to have Dr. Sheldon directing this project.”

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