The King\'s Stone Tracks by Nirit Avnimelech and Fred Bervoets
by Nirit Avnimelech and Fred Bervoets
Israels history is mostly known from the Bible. The Holy land is full of historical places and is visited by many tourist and pelgims that want to see the remarkable beauty of this country with their own eyes. Israel is sometimes called \"The land were the time began\" but that there are treasures to be seen from the Mesozoic period is not so wel known. Thanks to Moshe Avnimelech, who described the dinosaur tracks of the Judean Hills, the historical welth of Israel goes further back in time than anyone ever had expected. Just on a few km. from the historical and cultural centrum of Jerusalem ninety to hundred million years old dinsaur tracks give great insight in the prehistoric life of the Middle East.
The discovery of the Beit Zait (Beth Zayit) dinosaur tracks, just a few km. west of Jerusalem, was made by Mr. Mordechai Sofer, a former geology student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. During the summer of 1962 Mordechai Sofer informed Moshe Avnimelech that mysterious imprints were left in the rocks in the garden of Mr. Schwarzwald who was as Mr. Sofer, a resident of the Beit Zait village. The next day Moshe Avnimelech visited the site. What he found was a continious row of tracks, stretching for some 10 meter. It seemed that the tracks went on onto the hillock to the east and north of the exposed area. Later when an further area of 400 sq. m. was uncovered numerous additional tracks similar in form, pattern and direction were revealed.
Age of the tracks
The age of the tracks is fixed by what is known of the geological structure and history of the Judean Hills, a layer atleast 500 meter thick that constitute a part of a series of strata deposited from the Early Cretcaeous, Barremian to the Late Cretaceous, Campanian period. The strata were the tracks are found are usually assigned to the lowest part of the Cenomanian series, but the possibility that they belong to the Upper Albian may not be excluded. So, the age may be estimated ninety to hundred million years.
Nature of the rocks
The nature of the rocks on which the tracks were made indicates a marine origin, composed out of dolomitic-marly limestone in regular 10-15 cm. thick layers, with the seams of marl in between. The fossils in part of the layers are chiefly of marine gastropods of shallow-water character. Imprints of terrstrial plants were found in some of the layers, indicating the nearness of the shore. In certain layers, concentrations may be observed of reddish-brown earthy material, which is obviously derived from the adjacent land area.
Form and arrangement
The form and arangement of the tracks clearly show that the tracks were made by a biped. Often only the digits were imprinted but sometimes even the tarsals were pressed into the rock surface. The imprints of the tarsals shows that these were elongated, so it lengthening the foot. The tracks are made by theropod dinosaurs which were carnivorous and had four toes of which the first was short and high.
In general shape and appearance to trackmaker may have been similar to the North Amercian genus Struthiomimus. It appears that the trackmaker belongs to one of the families of the group Coelurosauria, specially the Coeluridae and Ornithomimidae of which the first seems to fit the tracks more closely. However, considering the dinosaur remains discovered in North Africa, the possibility can not be excluded that Elaphrosaurus bambergi lived once in the vicnity of Beit Zait. The trackmaker had an estimated length of the hind-limbs up to the waist, was 140 cm.; the forelimbs were attached to the shoulders at a height of approximately 150-160 cm. The height of the animal, when standing upright, was 230-250 cm., and the length of the animal was from tip to tail about 360-380 cm and weighted approximally 150 kg.
The Bait Zeit site is an area of approxmately fouthundred meters on which more than twohundred tracks can be seen. Several types of tracks can be distinguished, which might belong to three species. The most frequent type is characterized by an angle of 70 to 90 degrees between the outhermost digits. The length of these digits is 18-20 cm while the length of the middle digit (III) is 24-27 cm.
The length and thickness of the tracks vary with the heaviness of tread and the proprties of the soil. A round or retangular depression was formed at the place where the digits were joined: it is bulb-shaped and is evidently the imprint of a tarsal bone or bones. The outhermost digits of the second type make a broad arc with their base, giving the footprints the shape of an anchor. Ain this type the length of the central digit is as with the first 40 to 50% greater than that of the outhermost digits.
The third type differs from the firstand second inthat the base of the digits is almost straight. It is however, possible that this is only accidental, and can be attributed to the mode of the tread. Several isolated tracks with digits of almost equal length are totally different. The digits are splayed out at an angle of nearly 120 degrees; the external ones are bent out to form a smooth arc. These tracks are probably of the fore-limb, which may explain their rarity. Tracks of different imes of passage are also distinguishable: the earlier are blurred, as they were subsequwntly covered by a thin layer of new sediment.
There are several 10-15 meter long rows of tracks which are made up of 15 to 20 footprints, and other shorter rows, only 3 to 4 meter long, consisting of no more than 4 to 6. In general, the direction of the long rows of tracks which are more prominent than the short ones - is from south to north or north to south, whereas the direction of the shorter rows is commonly from northeast to southwest or vice versa. Only few of the verry shortest rows run approximately east-west or west-east. In the area, it is possible to mkae out three long rows which trend north-south, more than a dozen medium rows, and 4-5 short rows which run east-west.
(as written by M. Avnimelech in 1965)
The Beit Zait tracks are of prime scientific value. They record one of the major links in the biological chian of development on earth, and open a gateway to the spirit of eternity, mirrored in the infinite mutations which have influenced the character of the Earth and lif on it.
That, spirit, emanating from the imprints on the rock, may enlarge the outlook of our citizens, and of our youth not least.
It is a public duty to guarantee the preservation of the site and make it accessible to all who wish to learn and enrich their minds.
Special thanks to Professors Sass, Zak and Heller-Kal and Zelda Colodner of the Library of the Institute of Sciences of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Biography of Moshe Avnimelech
Moshe Avnimelech was born in 1899 in Warsaw, Poland. As a high school student he became very active in the Zionist movement and grew up to be one of its leaders. In 1920 he immigrated to Israel (Palestine at the time) as one of the pioneers, coming to create Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people. Coming to Israel, he translated his last name from Kenigstein (meaning King’s Stone) to the ancient Hebrew term, Avnimelech.
He worked for years in a cooperative community, quarries and construction works. Following back problems that developed due to these jobs, he went back to Europe (Germany, France) and studied geology. He joined the new department of Geology in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.The major mission of the department was to develop water sources needed for the new agricultural settlements established in the arid parts of the country. This mission was associated with long excursions to the different parts of the country; study of the unknown geology of these regions and the identification of sites where underground water was feasible.
Later, Professor Avnimelech headed the paleontology department. In this capacity he was notified of strange patterns found on rocks in a construction site near Jerusalem, patterns that were identified by him as footprints of Struthiomimus.
Avnimelech, M.A. (1966) Dinosaur Tracks in the Judean Hills. The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Proceedings, section of sciences, No. 1.
Avnimelech, M. A. (1962). Dinosaur tracks in the Judean Hills. Proceedings, Israel Acad. Sci. Humanities Sect. Sci. 1:1-19.
Avnimelech, M. A. (1962). Decouverte d\'empreintes de pas de Dinosaures dans le Cenomanien inferieur des environs de Jerusalem. C. R. Soc. Geol. France 1962: 233-235.