The Lark Quarry Trackway: Thulborn Strikes Back

UPDATE: I made a slight mix up when writing this article last week. I have stated that Thulborn, 2013 is responding to the claims of Romilio et al. 2012. This is actually incorrect. The paper to which Thulborn is responding is Romilio and Salisbury, 2011, where they dispute the identity of the large track maker at Lark Quarry and its consequences for the interpretation of the trackway. Thulborn has not yet responded to the new claims in Romilio et al. 2013, although he may do so in future. The core message of the article however is still the same. Romilio et al. do not believe that the trackway at Lark Quarry represents a dinosaur stampede, whereas Thulborn maintains it does. This intriguing topic will no doubt continue to provide ample material for debate in the years to come. This article has been edited from its original and second versions. For anyone who wants to see the original version, email me at the address at the top of the blog.

Regular readers of this blog (if there is such a thing) may recall that I wrote an article about a new paper by Romilio & Salisbury where they disputed the claims made by Tony Thulborn, who stated that the dinosaur trackways at Lark Quarry, Queensland were made by stampeding dinosaurs. In their paper they proposed that in fact the trackways were made at different times and showed dinosaurs crossing a river.

Perhaps a stampede after all? Thulborn certainly still seems to think so. Image from abc.net.au.

Perhaps a stampede after all? Thulborn certainly still seems to think so. Image from abc.net.au.

Now, Thulborn has responded to the claims made by Romilio & Salisbury, 2011, rejecting their analysis. In his rebuttal, Thulborn criticises their application of the multivariate analysis method, pointing out that they didn’t actually compare trackways of ornithopods and theropods but rather studied a single trackway, meaning that the only variation they could obtain would be between the individual tracks themselves. He also states that the multivariate analysis “appears to be based on fabricated data and is, therefore, worthless”.  The outlines of these tracks would have also deteriorated over time (Thulborn and Wade, 1984).

Thulborn also takes issue with how Romilio et al. have portrayed Thulborn’s initial interpretation of the site as a prey-pursuit scenario. Thulborn makes the distinction that he has never said it was this particular scenario (except when explicitly speculating), but rather that it was merely a stampede in general, regardless of the identity of the large track maker. Indeed, he argues that the whole premise of the recent paper by Romilio et al. seems to be to declare the larger tracks were in fact made by a large ornithopod, a fact that Thulborn declares is a “separate matter of secondary interest”.

So is the trackway at Lark Quarry evidence of a dinosaur stampede or not? Well, it depends on who you ask at the moment! Further study will no doubt show which of the two parties were closest to being correct. This debate is sure to continue; I’ll keep you all updated when the next developments arise!

References

Romilio A, S. W. Salisbury (2011) A reassessment of large theropod dinosaur tracks from the mid-Cretaceous (late
Albian-Cenomanian) Winton Formation of Lark Quarry, central-western
Queensland, Australia: A case for mistaken identity. Cretaceous research 32: 135-142.

Romilio A, Tucker, R. T. and S. W. Salisbury (2013): Reevaluation of the Lark Quarry dinosaur Tracksite (late Albian–Cenomanian Winton Formation, central-western Queensland, Australia): no longer a stampede?, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 33:1, 102-120.

Thulborn, R.A. (2013): Lark Quarry revisited: a critique of methods used to identify a large
dinosaurian track-maker in the Winton Formation (Albian–Cenomanian), western Queensland, Australia, Alcheringa: An
Australasian Journal of Palaeontology, DOI:10.1080/03115518.2013.748482

Thulborn, R. A., and M. Wade. 1984. Dinosaur trackways in the Winton
Formation (mid-Cretaceous) of Queensland. Memoirs Queensland
Museum 21:413–517.

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About Travis Park

I am a PhD student in Palaeontology at Monash University and Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, where I'm studying fossil whales. Other areas of interest include fossil penguins, seals, dromornithids, dinosaurs... basically fossil vertebrates in general! I'll be blogging about anything palaeo related that interests me, but I'll try to ensure Australian palaeontology gets its fair share! If there's anything specific you would like me to blog about, drop me an email and I'll have a stab at it!

6 responses to “The Lark Quarry Trackway: Thulborn Strikes Back”

  1. Mike says :

    There was a similar yes it is no it isn’t debate about the theropod astragalus from Eagles Nest found by Tim Flannery et al in about the late 1970s.
    Flannery argued that it was Allosaurid and got rebutted.
    Now with the discovery of the Allosaurid Australovenator with a comparable astragalus it looks like he was right from the start?

    • Travis Park says :

      Hi Mike

      I can’t recall the astragalus from Eagles Nest, but whilst it could be an Allosauroid, my money would be on it being something similar to the Ceratosaur astragalus that was found at San Remo and described in paper last year by Erich Fitzgerald and colleagues (see ref below). I don’t know if they’ve compared the Eagles Nest astragalus to either Australoventor or the San Remo Ceratosaur, but I’ll ask when I get back to the museum next week (currently on a dig at Inverloch).

      Ref

      Fitzgerald et al. (2012) First ceratosaurian dinosaur from Australia. Naturwissenschaften 99(5):397-405.

      Travis

  2. Bj Nicholls says :

    The photo for your post is interesting. The large theropod track is going the opposite direction from most of the smaller track, and I see what looks to me like claw drags and partial forefoot impressions that are suggestive of buoyant animals.

    • Travis Park says :

      Hi

      In the new interpretation of the trackways by Romilio et al. (see ref below) they point out similar markings and suggest that it could have indeed been caused by dinosaurs that were buoyant and just scraping along the bottom. I don’t know enough regarding Ichnology to comment either way, but it will be interesting to see which interpretation turns out to be closest to the truth in future.

      Ref

      Anthony Romilio , Ryan T. Tucker & Steven W. Salisbury (2013): Reevaluation of the Lark Quarry dinosaur
      Tracksite (late Albian–Cenomanian Winton Formation, central-western Queensland, Australia): no longer a stampede?, Journal
      of Vertebrate Paleontology, 33:1, 102-120

      Travis

  3. Tony Thulborn says :

    While I appreciate your efforts to straighten out the misunderstandings about Lark Quarry, I’d appreciate them a lot more if you would PLEASE get the facts right.

    My paper in Alcheringa (2013) is a response to the Romilio & Salisbury paper in Cretaceous Research (2011). It concerns the identity of a SINGLE track-maker at the site and says nothing whatsoever about the swimming dinosaurs scenario that Romilio and his colleagues have more recently unveiled elsewhere (Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 2013). I’ll sort out those swimming dinosaurs in due course. (And while I don’t want to cloud the issue further, I’ll just point out that your account of the swimming dinosaurs scenario is also inaccurate.)

    So far as my paper in Alcheringa is concerned, your account is just plain wrong. At no point does it state “that they [Romilio & Salisbury] actually made some of their data up!”or that “Romilio et al. have “fabricated” the outlines of some the tracks”. Those are your words, not mine, and they can get you into an awful lot of trouble. My paper states that the work by Romilio & Salisbury appears to be based on fabricated data. And that’s all it says. It offers no opinion on who might have fabricated the data or why they might have done so. My paper sticks to verifiable facts, all the way through, and I’ve cited the source of those facts right down to page number – just in case anyone does want to go back and check the facts (nowadays a seemingly unfashionable diversion). There are no remarks about the activitites, intentions or motives of any person, living or extinct. You’ve attached your own interpretation to my words and then attributed your interpretation to me.

    If I said that your description of “Xosaurus” appears to be based on a broken specimen, would this necessarily imply that YOU broke the specimen? Of course not. All I’ve said is that the published account of one dinosaur trackway appears to be based on fabricated data. Nothing more.

    The identity of that one large track-maker IS a separate matter of secondary interest (despite your unwillingness to accept the fact), and my paper explains exactly why it is a secondary matter of no great importance: it’s not part of the evidence for a dinosaurian stampede and never was part of that evidence. As I’ve said, the concept of a dinosaurian stampede was developed BEFORE that large trackway was even discovered. You “feel [that this] isn’t entirely correct as there is a sizeable portion of the paper dedicated to explaining the sedimentology of the locality, how the depositional setting was more likely to be a river of varying strength and that there was only one smaller bodied taxon making the tracks.” All that stuff is irrelevant: it’s from the paper that Romilio et al. published in 2013 – whereas my rermarks in Alcheringa were directed at a DIFFERENT subject in a DIFFERENT paper (published in 2011)! I don’t have a crystal ball, so please don’t criticise me for failing to anticipate and deal with work that someone else was planning to publish in the future.

    So, with respect, I suggest you go back, read it all again and get the facts straightened out. You will then begin to appreciate that it’s not just a matter of opinion depending on “who you ask at the moment”.

    Tony Thulborn

    PS It’s not “a feud”, as you so quaintly put it. Mary Wade and I worked on the Lark Quarry material 30 years ago, and the world has changed significantly since then. There are certainly some bits of the story which need to be updated and revised. But it’s not a pet theory of mine, and I’d be the first to stand up and applaud if someone could come up with a better interpretation of the site. (In fact, I’d be happy to help in finding a better inerpretation!) But the paper that Romilio & Salisbury published in Cretaceous Research doesn’t qualify as legitimate science – for a whole string of reasons that I’ve already explained in Alcheringa (fabricated data, selective treatment of anomalies, cherry-picking… and so on).

    • Travis Park says :

      Tony

      Whilst initially I had indeed incorrectly stated you were responding to Romilio et al. (2013), I explicitly note in the update to the article that you were actually responding to Romilio & Salisbury (2011).

      I concur that you do not actually state that Romilio & Salisbury made their data up, and should not have attributed that opinion to you (I will be re-editing the article after I write this post). However, when you are saying that Romilio & Salisbury’s work appears to be based on fabricated data and it is Romilio & Salisbury who have collected the data (by examining some of your old figures and also collecting their own new data), it is rather difficult to see who else could actually be fabricating it.

      I do not disagree that the identity of the one large track maker is a separate matter of secondary interest. The context in which I was disagreeing with you was that the identity of the large track maker was the whole premise of their paper, when they wrote about the sedimentology etc. However, this whole point became moot when it was pointed out to me you weren’t actually talking about the 2013 paper anyway. That section should really have been removed when I updated the article originally.

      When it comes to the question of whether it is a stampede or not, I never said it was a “matter of opinion”, nor would I as it will depend on the evidence. It will however depend on who you ask at the moment as there are conflicting hypotheses about what exactly is recorded in the rocks at Lark Quarry, regardless of what you think the scientific merit of the evidence supporting the other hypothesis is. Therefore, depending on who you ask, you will receive a different answer.

      My actual words concerning it being a “feud” was actually “this little palaeo-feud”, I had hoped at the time of writing that the informal phrasing of the term would be enough to convey the rather joking sense I had intended, where I was trying to hint at the often vigorous debate that goes on in our field (and indeed science in general). This does not seem to be case however as this is the second case where someone has taken exception to use of the word “feud” (the first being Steve McLoughlin when he emailed me pointing out my mistake). I will change the term to something that hopefully won’t be misconstrued as having sinister implications.

      I hope this clears the matter up somewhat, and I look forward to reading any future work you may produce concerning the trackway.

      Regards

      Travis

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