Footprints can be extremely useful tools. Forensics experts can investigate them in crime scenes, while hunters can use them to help track down animals.
It’s no surprise, then, that when thousands of footprints were found in Bolivia — going up the side of a mountain, no less — they immediately attracted the attention of scientists. What they discovered was a revelation.
In the 1980s, a team of workers stumbled upon something extraordinary in the highlands of Bolivia: some sort of pattern imprinted in a near-vertical cliff.
Ramon Kristian Arellano / Twisted Sifter
The site is located near Sucre, the capital of Bolivia, which is nestled in the foothills of the Andes mountains.
Carsten Drossel / Flickr
Miners contracted by a Bolivian cement company named Fancesca had been excavating an area about three miles from Sucre.
Éamonn Lawlor / Flickr
The more they chipped away at the rock, the more they noticed this strange pattern in the walls of the quarry.
Jerry Daykin / Wikimedia Commons
This wasn’t just any pattern — it was a trail of actual dinosaur footprints. The site, dubbed Cal Orcko, is now considered extremely important to the world of paleontology, with secrets still being uncovered to this day.
Sean Mulry / Wikimedia Commons
Despite the major discovery in the 1980s, it wasn’t until 1994 that major excavation work started to study the area. That’s when scientists realized just how special this place was.
The Cal Orcko quarry features a huge limestone wall that stretches 4,000 feet across and 250 feet high — and is covered with almost 5,000 dinosaur prints!
Gerardo Diego Ontiveros / Flickr
In 1998, Christian Meyer of the Natural History Museum in Basel, Switzerland, arrived at the site with a research team. They spent the next few months studying the wall, and concluded that there was nowhere else in the world with a more extensive collection of dinosaur footprints.
Ryan Greenberg / Flickr
At 269,100 square feet, the area contains footprints from nearly 300 different dinosaur species in all. One of these creatures is thought to have been at least 80 feet tall, while the largest footprint is three feet long!
Cropbot / Wikimedia Commons
Cal Orcko is providing scientists the opportunity to learn more about these fantastic creatures. “There is no comparable site in the world,” Meyer said in an interview.
Roberto Murta / Wikimedia Commons
Footprints found at the site belonged to such dinosaurs like Carnotaurus, a predatory animal with small arms and legs; as well as the Ankylosaurus, a herbivore with an armored exterior and a club-like tail. There are even footprints from the Titanosaur, a plant-eating dinosaur that once weighed more than 100 tons!
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Cal Orcko also features the longest known set of dinosaur tracks at 1,150 feet, created by a juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex, whom a team of researchers named Johnnie Walker.
vincentraal / Flickr
But that wasn’t all. Researchers have discovered dinosaur bones as well as evidence of crocodiles and fish, leading experts to believe that Cal Orcko was once a lake where these creatures would bathe and drink.
David Monniaux / WIkimedia Commons
Scientists also claim that the damp climate was ideal for dinosaurs to leave deep footprints in the soft ground. As the area became more dry, these footprints hardened as were preserved. This cycle repeated year after year, forming several layers of footprints.
Tim Evanson / Wikimedia Commons
Of course, the landscape shifted along with tectonic activity. This explains why the footprints seem to be marching in a vertical direction — the rock was simply pushed upward.
Jerry Daykin / Wikimedia Commons
Not surprisingly, Cal Orcko is a popular site for tourists. In 2006, the Parque Cretácico museum opened to showcase models and explain the area’s rich prehistoric past. There’s even a viewing platform for visitors to observe the footprints in the limestone walls.
Jasonwoodhead23 / Wikimedia Commons
A replica of the Ankylosaurus at the 1964 World’s Fair.
New discoveries at Cal Orcko are still being discovered to this day with all of its industrial projects and ever-shifting landscape. “It’s just amazing,” says Maria Teresa Gamón, a guide at the site. “We see fresh footprints and fossils all the time. We lose some, we find some. It’s always changing.”
Eva K / Wikimedia Commons
That point was proven perfectly in April 2015 with the discovery of a whopping 5,000 new footprints, including two sets that once belonged to a previously unknown species. There’s no telling what they’ll find next.
Esv / Wikimedia Commons
It’s mind-blowing to think about all the science and history there is to be found in a single location like Cal Orcko. It just goes to show that there’s always more to learn!
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