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MIANWALI: After treading for 50 minutes in cold harsh weather, we finally reached our desired location where awaited us the spectacular dinosaur foot prints at Baroch Nala, Malakhel, near Mianwali.

After leaving the mild winter of Karachi, it was quite difficult to deal with the shivering cold while balancing ourselves on paths made of rocks and pebbles – but we hiked along, eager to reach our destination soon.

When we finally did reach, Sadiq Malkani – the geologist and explorer of the mid Jurassic dinosaurs trackways – was almost shocked to see the amazing site brutally cut down by hydraulic machines recently.

“Look! I discovered two types of dinosaurs’ foot prints on this wall in 2006. The first one belonged to plant eater titanosaurian sauropods and the other was from a carnivore theropod. The theropod tracks were very clear but the local coal miners destroyed this world class site,” he shouted.

‘For the past 160 million years, nature preserved the wonderful dinosaur site for us but we ruined it within hours,’ I thought to myself with immense feeling of cold, despair and fatigue.

A collage of titanosaurian sauropods footprints. Immediate measures should be taken to preserve pre-historic ichnofossils which may be lost due to mining for coal in the region and inadequate knowledge about its importance. - Photo by Raheel Qureshi / Dawn.com

However, he pointed out some of the well preserved foot prints of the titanosaurian sauropods dinosaurs left in the sands of time. My photographer colleague and I were both intrigued to see the astonishing footprints which had survived destruction and were excited to bring this discovery to the public for the very first time through Dawn.com.

The amazing dinosaur’s trackways

Sadiq Malkani is the Deputy Director at Geological Survey of Pakistan (GSP) who usually probes and maps minerals across Pakistan. His other fascination is to hunt dinosaur fossils in mountains and valleys.

Back in 2000, he discovered a few strange bones and assumed they were dinosaur fossils but the discovery remained an enigma for more than a year. Later, two eminent paleontologists, Jeffery Wilson and Phillip Gingerich – both from University of Michigan – visited Pakistan and confirmed that the bones indeed did belong to dinosaurs.

Now Malkani’s office at GSP headquarters in Quetta is congested with dinosaur bones. He has discovered more than 3000 bones of herbivore and carnivore dinosaurs belonging to different geological times. He has also discovered six skulls, limb bones, back plates and thorny bones on tails and the eggs of different dinosaurs. Another amazing finding is a skull of a baby dinosaur with teeth markings of a prehistoric beast!  find

On the basis of fossils and dinosaurs skulls, he discovered some new species of late cretaceous (from 135 million to 63 million years ago) dinosaurs and named them Pakisaurus, Balochisaurus, Marisaurus, Khetranisaurus, Sulaimanisaurus and Pakistani T-Rex, VitakriDarinda. He has also discovered 30 dinosaur fossil beds in Dera Bugti, Kohlu, Fort Minro and in Suleiman Range.

In this photograph taken in 2006, the trackways of both dinosaurs are visible - where a solitary carnivore theropod is attacking a herd of herbivores titanosaurian sauropods. – Photo by Sadiq Malkani

In 2006, He unearthed an astonishing site at Malakhel where he found footprints of a large predator, the theropod dinosaur with trackways – the line of footprints – of titanosaurian sauropod(s).

By looking at the 2006 photograph of dinosaur trackways, this illustration by Faraz Aamer Khan shows that Malakhel, Mianwali was a battle ground of dinosaurs some 160 million years ago.

He explored 15 foot prints and four trackways in a 1500 square feet area. Perhaps both types of dinosaurs were present at the same time. If so, in an imaginative scenario, a giant theropod may have attacked a herd of titanosaurian Sauropods with its hungry jaws. The footprints show that both types of animals had confronted each other at one point.

The site holds the deepest footprints anywhere in the world. Malkani has found 7 cm depth of titanosaurian sauropod’s footprint and 10 cm depth of theropod dinosaur’s footprints.

I rushed to the place and put my hand in the center of a huge footprint and tried to feel the feet of one of the largest dinosaur that ever reigned on our planet.

In geological terms, the site is called middle Jurassic Samana Suk Limestone, which was a battle ground of dinosaurs 160 million years ago and now a beautiful place rich in good quality coal, pale orange rocks with tinge of iron and tons of marine fossils such as ammonites and belemnites. The place was located just near the seashore millions of years ago.

Two research papers on the findings have been produced in 2006 and 2008. The International Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology and Journal of Earth Sciences both confirmed and published this remarkable work. Two other important papers were also published by Sindh University’s Research Journal in 2007.

What the footprints reveal

After the Ardley site in the UK, this is the second site in the world and the first in Asia which provides snapshots of wide-gauge trackways of sauropods frozen in time.

The study of animal burrows and footprints is called “ichnology” and the prints are called Ichnofossils. They also help to understand the life, habitat, locomotion and behavior of the extinct creatures.

The left side of the image shows the destruction of wall on which the theropod footprint (left) was discovered in 2006. – Photo by Sadiq Malkani

Four of the 15 footprints have now vanished due to the construction of a road, while carrying coals from mines to the other areas. All the lost footprints belonged to theropod, which can now only be seen in low-res images taken by Malkani in 2006. He has measured the three slender toed footprints as having a maximum length of about 2 feet with a width of 1.5 meters.

I tried very hard to find any rock pieces shed from the site with a theropod print but only saw the rubble of small stones crushed under the wheels of heavy tractor trolleys.

By looking at the footprints, the new genus and species of theropod has been named Samanadrinda Surghari, which was a larged-body beast resembling the famous tyrannosaurs or T-Rex but with smaller teeth. – Illustration by Asim Mirza

The new genus and species of theropod has been named Samanadrinda Surghari, which was a large-body beast resembling the famous tyrannosaurs or T-Rex but with smaller teeth.

The name, Samana, is the geological formation of the site, Drinda means beast in Urdu and Saraiki language while Surghari is dedicated to the name of Surghar range which hosts the area. The beast was 10 to 12 feet in height and weighed 8 to 10 tons.

The footprint of the plant eater was also a new genus and species of the middle Jurassic titanosaurian sauropod known as Malakhelisaurus Mianwali. – Illustration by Asim Mirza

The footprint of the plant eater was also a new genus and species of middle Jurassic titanosaurian sauropod dubbed as Malakhelisaurus Mianwali. Malakhel is the name of the area; Saurus is for reptile and Mianwali is the host district of the site.

A close kin of largest herbivore titanosaurian sauropods, Malakhelisaurus had a huge body, small head and fat neck with pillar-like legs. From head to tail, the creature was 30 feet long and almost 10 to 15 feet high. It supposedly weighed more than 30 tones. Its feet carved a print of nearly one meter in moist clay or on wet muddy surface.

When the sea retreated, sunlight baked the clay into a hard substrate and the foot print managed to get preserved. Ammonites’ finding shows that the whole area was near the seashore millions years ago.

Impression from real Jurassic Park

After losing the trackways of theropod, the site only holds the footprints of titanosaurian sauropods. 160 million years ago, the footprints were visible on a leveled surface but due to tectonic activities over time, the site has risen and formed a 55 degrees slope, which shows the whole scenario as if it were displayed on a cinema screen.

A detail view of the wall at Malakhel with many footprints of titanosaurian sauropods. – Photo by Raheel Qureshi / Dawn.com

Although there was only a little space for us to move back take images of the whole wall, looking at it from the small distance, I could imagine the roars of theropod and the panic of the slow moving sauropods during a confrontation. I could even visualize rapid moving ammonites in clear salty waters some in middle Jurassic times.

This historic spot is no less important than Moenjodaro, Mehrgarh and Harappa and there is an urgent need to conserve this already crumbling site. There is also a pretty good chance of finding more footprints if further digging is initiated.

Amazing discoveries of the largest land mammal Baluchitherium, the walking whale, ancient elephants, lemurs, ammonites and 1.8 million years old sivapithecus hominids are going to change the text books of modern paleontology.

The Mianwali site could reveal even more wonders as most of the area is still mostly undiscovered. What we need is a national campaign to save this site which is now a world heritage.