This 100-Million-Year-Old Dinosaur Discovery In A Chinese Restaurant Is A Game-Changer

We typically see paleontologists make important dinosaur discoveries in barren and remote landscapes. In downtown Leshan, a city of some 1 million people in China's Southwest Sichuan Province, though, one resident named Ou Hongtao noticed something quite remarkable in the most unexpected of places (via World Population Review). While out to eat at a restaurant, the amateur dinosaur enthusiast noticed giant footprints preserved in the courtyard of the establishment. (Similar dinosaur footprints are pictured above).

What these special dents — as Ou described them — turned out to be, was the first ever evidence of dinosaur populations in the Leshan area (via China Daily). Scientists have now confirmed they date all the way back to the early Cretaceous period, some 100 million years ago, based on reporting from Global Times. Though scientists were aware of dinosaurs in the Sichuan area dating to the more recent Jurassic period, the discovery of prints from the Cretaceous — the first dinosaur discovery in the city of Leshan itself — offers crucial insight into what life was like during one of the dinosaur's most plentiful periods, according to CNN.

The prints were made by sauropods

Led by paleontologist and associate professor at the China University of Geosciences Lida Xing, the prints discovered at the Leshan restaurant were confirmed to be sauropods, as CNN goes on to report. With long necks and tails, the most well-known member of the sauropod family is likely the brontosaurus, which reportedly made the prints discovered at the Leshan restaurant, according to China Daily. As Global Times also explains, the ancient dinosaurs in question were likely 8 meters, or about 26 feet long (via Online-Calculator).

Among the largest land animals known to science to ever live, some sauropod species are known to have reached lengths of 85 feet, according to Britannica. In the early Cretaceous period, these sauropods were alongside a riverbank when they left their prints behind some 100 million years ago, as China Daily also explains. Of the fossilized footprints, paleontologist Lida Xing said, "[T]his discovery is actually like a jigsaw, adding a piece of evidence to Sichuan's Cretaceous period and the diversity of dinosaurs."

There are likely more fossils in the area

In addition to 3D scanning technology, the dinosaur prints discovered in Leshan, China were linked to the species brontosaurus through drone footage and other types of analysis, according to Global Times. Sichuan was in drought conditions during the period in which those dinosaurs took those steps, and they were probably drawn to the area for water. After the important paleontological discovery was made, parts of the restaurant courtyard were fenced off and additional measures may be taken to preserve the fossil footprints for further study, according to CNN.

As Paleontologist Xing continued, the prints were well protected because the owner of the restaurant liked how the unfinished stone looked. Otherwise, they might have been covered over when the restaurant was built, a common problem for Chinese paleontologists during China's recent period of rapid development. "[T]hese footprints were well protected ... When we went there, we found that the footprints were very deep and quite obvious," but nobody up to that point had considered that they might belong to a dinosaur, Xing said.