Someone spotted the pits back in the 1950s but covered them to make the floor even.
Dinosaur footprints were discovered during a chance encounter back in 2022 as a diner at a restaurant in China asked about some unusual pits on the stone floor. The person noticed there were a dozen evenly-spaced imprints along the outdoor courtyard of the Garden Restaurant in Sichuan Province, which were later confirmed to be dinosaur footprints around 100 million years old.
According to a new paper about the discovery, the pits had been seen back in the 1950s but were thought to be nothing special and smoothed over to even out the floor. At this time it was a home, but then three years ago it was converted into a restaurant, revealing the pits to the world once more.
“The footprints went unnoticed for so long, but once you know what they are, it’s hard to unsee them,” said Associate Professor Lida Xing from the China University of Geosciences, who worked on the discovery, in a statement. “The region has no skeletal record of dinosaurs, so these fossilised tracks provide invaluable information about the types of dinosaurs that lived in the area.”
Food Instagrammers catch a lot of flack for snapping their meals, but it seems there can be some perks to taking a moment to appreciate your surroundings before face-planting into your dinner. Using 3D scanners, a team confirmed the imprints were left by sauropods, plant-eating dinosaurs that grew to enormous sizes.
“We compared the size of the footprints with complete fossil skeletons,” Dr Anthony Romilio from the University of Queensland’s Dinosaur Lab said. “We also know the dinosaurs were taking quite short steps for such a large animal, with a walking speed of around two kilometres [1.2 miles] per hour.”
Using this information, they estimated that the owner of the footprints would’ve been around 10 meters (32 feet) long in life. Not quite the dizzying size of Patagotitan, which grew to around four times that, but still pretty big.
The “restaurant tracks” garnered global attention, featuring in the world press, and have now been described in a journal paper. They date back to the Lower Cretaceous, sitting in the Jiaguan Formation, and are the footprints of a Brontopodus type sauropod.
With such an unusual location for discovering new insights about Earth’s history, it’s a reminder to always be on the lookout for hidden clues.
“It’s a testament to the value of being curious about our surroundings and paying attention to the world around us,” concluded Romilio. “For some lucky people discoveries can come from unlikely places – even while you're having a bite to eat.”
The study is published in Cretaceous Research.