• Vertebrate ichnology and paleoenvironmental associations of Alaska's largest dinosaur track site in the cretaceous Cantwell Formation (Maastrichtian) of Denali National Park and Preserve

      Stewart, Dustin G.; Druckenmiller, Patrick; Fowell, Sarah; McCarthy, Paul (2020-10)
      The Upper Cretaceous Cantwell Formation in Denali National Park and Preserve (DENA) has recently been recognized as a major high latitude dinosaur track-bearing unit in Alaska. The abundant trace fossil record of the Cantwell Formation, which represents a diverse community of avian and non-avian dinosaurs, compliments the body fossil record of the state's other major dinosaur-producing unit, the Prince Creek Formation of northern Alaska. However, research in the Cantwell Formation is still in its infancy due to its wide aerial extent and remoteness, and many questions remain concerning the temporal, ichnological, and paleoenvironmental relationships of the formation. Here I describe and analyze the largest known single track site currently known in DENA and all of Alaska -- a football field-sized outcrop named the Coliseum. This site is composed of 65+ meters of vertical section, with laterally extensive fine- to medium-grained sandstone, indurated mudstone, fissile shale, and bentonite. Trace fossils at the Coliseum include true tracks, undertracks, natural casts, and trackways that vary in their preservation from eroded, trampled surfaces to individual prints with skin impressions. The tracks were documented via handheld and UAV-assisted photogrammetry, enabling a large-scale 3-dimensional mapping of the Coliseum. Facies analysis of the site reveal the tracks were formed on crevasse splay and overbank deposits within a fluvial floodplain. U-Pb dating of zircons collected from a bentonite horizon return an age of 69.3±0.9 Ma (early Maastrichtian), improving the temporal constraints of the formation and revealing one of the youngest ages of deposition for the formation. Several new dinosaurian ichnotaxa previously unrecognized from the formation are described, revealing the presence of large-bodied ornithopods, ceratopsids, and non-avian and avian theropod trackmakers. The Coliseum provides a snapshot of an ancient forested environment inhabited by a diverse dinosaurian community deposited in the Late Cretaceous paleo-Arctic.