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Dramatic dinosaur chase scene reconstructed from old photos

Over 110 million years ago, a compelling scene played out between two dinosaurs. A digital reconstruction tells the story.

Digital dino track reconstruction
A view of part of the dino trackway colored to show height. Peter L. Falkingham

Over 70 years ago, excavators uncovered two sets of dinosaur tracks by the Paluxy River in Texas. Photographs were taken and the surface of the actual trackway was divided up and sent to different institutions. Some of those pieces remain, and some have been lost over the decades.

The scene of the dinosaur chase might have gone down as an unfortunate missing piece of history, but lead researcher Peter Falkingham from the Royal Veterinary College of the University of London led a group of scientists to digitally reconstruct the story starting with 17 old photos that still existed.

The results of the work are published in journal Plos One under the title "Historical Photogrammetry: Bird's Paluxy River Dinosaur Chase Sequence Digitally Reconstructed as It Was prior to Excavation 70 Years Ago."

The original trackway was about 30 feet long, which is why it was broken up in the first place. It appears to show a theropod (similar to a velociraptor) following a sauropod (a large, four-legged, long-necked dinosaur). Some of the still-existing portions of the trackway are deteriorating, which makes this sort of digital preservation work even more important.

Scans of the photographs, laser scans of the remaining samples, and historic hand-drawn maps of the scene were used to make the reconstruction. The researchers used VisualSFM 3D reconstruction software for the work. This is the first time the chase sequence has been all together, albeit in a digital form, since the original discovery all those years ago.

The success of the reconstruction could lead to a greater understanding of other lost or incomplete work. "It is an exciting prospect to think that many palaeontological or archaeological specimens that have been lost to science, or suffered irreparable damage, may be digitally reconstructed in 3D using free software and a desktop computer," reads the paper.

Dinosaur tracks vintage photos
Some of the original photographs used for the reconstruction. Roland T. Bird

(Via BBC News)