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Dinosaur Footprints in Arkansas from T. Rex Cousin?

File photo. (iStockPhoto/Thinkstock)(FAYETTEVILLE, Ark.) -- In a remote corner of southern Arkansas, scientists have found a rocky field full of dinosaur footprints in an area about as large as two football fields.

The fossilized tracks probably date to the Early Cretaceous period, 115 to 120 million years ago. Researchers say the dinosaurs who left them probably included giant predators, such as Acrocanthosaurus atokensis, an early cousin of T. rex. There are also large, long-necked plant-eating dinosaurs such as Pleurocoelus and Paluxysaurus, who may have been easy prey.

Stephen Boss of the University of Arkansas, who leads the team working on the site, says the footprints are in excellent shape -- probably a good snapshot of what life in the Cretaceous may have been like there.

What's now North America was tropical and steamy back then. The field was probably on the edge of a body of water. Silt, covering it over time, would have hardened to preserve the footprints.

A. atokensis, if that's what the researchers have found, was one of the largest predators ever to walk the earth. The dinosaur had three toes. The footprints are about two feet long and a foot wide.

Dinosaur tracks are surprisingly common, but not in spots this large. Scientists can examine the area to infer how much rain there was, and how quickly it evaporated. If they can reconstruct the climate of the Early Cretaceous, the university said, it may help in predictions about Earth's future climate.

The land is on private property in southwestern Arkansas, not far from the borders of East Texas and northern Louisiana. For now, the researchers are keeping the precise location a secret.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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