The dinosaur tracksite in Pedreira do Galinha, discovered on July 1994 by João Carvalho, a member of STEA (a local speleology and archaeology association), is located on the eastern side of Serra d’Aire, approximately 10Km from Fátima and 16Km from Torres Novas. It lies within the boundaries of the village of Bairro (municipality of Ourém) in the heart of the Serras d’Aire e Candeeiros Natural Park.

This remarkable tracksite of the Middle Jurassic period (approximately 175 million years old) contains not just the oldest and longest sauropod tracks known anywhere, but also exceptionally well preserved traces of some of the largest land animals that have ever lived.

The sauropods were quadruped herbivorous dinosaurs with small heads and long necks and tails. Their sturdy bodies stood on thick, strong limbs (similar to elephants) with sharp claws on the thumbs and large toes. The rear limbs of the sauropods were usually larger than front limbs.

The tracks we can see at the Pedreira do Galinha site were originally made in carbonated mud, which was very fine and easily shaped, and deposited in shallow (1-2 meters) lagoon conditions. The sediments present in the visible strata of the tracksite, deposited over millions of years, were later transformed into limestone, which was quarried on the site until very recently.

In the tracksite, consisting of the rocky surface of one of these limestone strata covering an area of about 60 000m2, we can observe various hundreds of dinosaur tracks, grouped at least into two tens of trackways. Among these is a 147m trackway which length, excellent state of preservation and spectacular visual impact make it the longest known sauropod trackway in the world.

The trackways consist of manus and pes prints, clearly reflecting the passage of large four-legged animals. The larger elliptical prints were made by feet- pes. These are immediately followed by smaller, half-moon prints, which were made by the hands- manus.

Palaeoichnology is the science that deals with dinosaur tracks, since it is the branch of Palaeontology which studies trace fossils i.e. the remains of organic activity (tracks, fossil eggs, etc.) from the geological past. Palaeoichnological studies of these tracks provide us with valuable information on the shape of the hands (manus) and feet (pes) of these animals, as well as the manner and speed at which they moved.

The tracks also allow us to determine certain anatomical features of the animals which produced them, especially the length of their legs, which is approximately equal to the four times the length of the foot print. Using these figures, and bearing in mind known complete skeletons, it is possible to calculate the approximate size of the animals. Using these methods, we were able to identify the presence of differently sized animals on the Pedreira do Galinha tracksite, among which there was one that may have been around 30m in length.

By studying the tracks it is also possible to glean more information concerning the individual or social behaviour of these animals. In the case of the Pedreira do Galinha tracksite, no evidence has yet been found to suggest gregarious behaviour (i.e., moving around in herds). The tracks we find here suggest that these were all solitary animals moving in isolation.

Estrada de Fátima
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