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A diner discovered 100 million-year-old dinosaur footprints in a restaurant

One outline of a footprint discovered in the restaurant courtyard.
Lida Xing
One outline of a footprint discovered in the restaurant courtyard.

If you need an excuse to head to brunch this weekend, allow yourself to consider the possibility that your French toast may cause you to expand scientific discovery and research.

Earlier this month, an observant patron at a restaurant in southwest China spotted a set of footprints in the stone floor of the courtyard where they were dining.

And after the proper authorities were called in to observe and identify, the paleontologists on the scene discovered a new set of footprints, which they say belong to two dinosaurs that walked the planet some 100 million years ago.

Paleontologist Dr. Lida Xing was one of the experts called in to investigate. He told CNN that his team used a 3D scanner to confirm that the imprints were left by sauropods.

A scientist documents the footprint.
/ Lida Xing
/
Lida Xing
One expert says the find is a reminder that the remains of fossils are still all around us.

Sauropods were plant-eaters with small heads and long necks and tails, and they were monstrous.

"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," said Riley Black, a paleontologist and science writer.

"Their whole game plan, evolutionarily speaking, was to eat a whole bunch of plants and get big as fast as possible."

And although the time for sauropods to walk the Earth may be long gone, this discovery denotes an exciting time for paleontological research.

"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," said Scott Persons, a paleontologist at the College of Charleston. He has worked with the Chinese scientists who made this discovery, though he was not involved in this particular find.

3D printers were used to confirm the footprints belonged to dinosaurs.
/ Lida Xing
/
Lida Xing
3D scanners were used to confirm the footprints belonged to dinosaurs.

"I have to say, I've never gone to a restaurant to discover dinosaur tracks," Persons said.

Black said this type of encounter could be a reminder that the remains of fossils are still all around us.

"Even sometimes when I 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."

While fossil footprints might not seem quite as dramatic as finding bones, they allow paleontologists to take a unique glimpse into how dinosaurs lived.

"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," Black said.

Black added that sauropods had to eat constantly to maintain their size — so their behavior in this case may have involved munching their way through their lush, green world.

In other words, there's a chance they may have been brunching, too.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: July 24, 2022 at 12:00 AM EDT
A caption in an earlier version of this story incorrectly said 3D printers were used to confirm that the footprints found at a restaurant in southwest China belonged to dinosaurs. Paleontologists used 3D scanners, not printers.

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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.