Two local hikers made a surprising discovery east of Lake Mead — ancient reptile footprints.
The fossils are believed to be dated back 290 million years ago, but their findings are just now coming to light after more a recent, detailed study was released last week to the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Salt Lake City.
UNLV professor Dr. Stephen Rowland, who is leading a team of geologists, spent months analyzing the ancient reptile footprints.
When two of his friends found the pre-historic reptile tracks several years ago, he had to investigate. After all, he has spent his career researching fossils.
“Tom told me about them,” Rowland said. “That he had found some new tracks that were different than the ones we had been working on and so I went out to look at them with him and got very excited.”
Amateur paleontologists Tom Cluff and Michelle Burkett initially found the tracks on a large rock when they were hiking through Gold Butte, about 50 miles south of Mesquite, in eastern Clark County.
“We went back out there and did some more detailed studies and we put together a more detailed story and presented it at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting just last week in Salt Lake City,” Rowland said.
Their findings just now being released after his team spent months analyzing the footprints.
Calling the trackway of the fossil “chelichnus giga” researchers like Dr. Rowland believe the trackway to be nearly 290 million years old from the early Permian time period.
“If I had found it in the Cocanino sandstone in the Grand Canyon, I would have thought okay that’s kind of cool, but it’s not any big scientific discovery but to have these tracks older and in a different environment, a marine title flat environment is very surprising to me,” Rowland said. “Nobody expected to see that type of track.”
The team is still trying to identify who left the prints.
“So the animal that made those and we’re still trying to figure out what that animal was lived earlier than we thought it did and it lived in a different environment so that’s why it’s scientifically important and exciting,” he said.
Senator Harry Reid has been pushing for Gold Butte where those tracks were found to be named a national monument by President Obama.
The area also includes petroglyphs and rock art.