China Focus: Not King Gesar, but dinosaurs -- Tibetan people worship big footprints

13:15, January 16, 2011      

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The large footprints on the cliff, which look like traces of giants, are mysteries for the native people in Qamdo Prefecture in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, surrounded by white kha-btags year round.

"People believe that the footprints belong to King Gesar," said Ngawang Donden, a local resident in Qamdo, who often passes by the prints when traveling for business as director of Gamdo Radio and Television Center.

Known as the chief of the ancient Tibetan kingdom, King Gesar was born in the 11th century as the son of the supreme god Indira. The king, with supernatural powers, conquered the "kingdoms of demons" in a heroic epic created by Tibetans.

Thus in folklore, the eight pairs of footprints, among which the largest is 1.7 meters long, are believed to have been left by Gesar. Prayers must give kha-btags to the miracle, which has become a scenic spot and attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists annually.

"I don't believe in supernatural powers, but I cannot explain it either," said Ngawang Donden.

Who left the big footprints? An article "First Record of Dinosaur Tracks from Tibet, China" published Saturday in the Geological Bulletin of China, revealed the mystery with scientific research -- the tracks belonged to dinosaurs from the Early-Middle Jurassic period.

The article, written by Xing Lida and Philip J. Currie from the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Canada and Jerald D. Harris, Physical Sciences Department, Dixie State College, USA said that the three sauropod tracks are part of eight tracks found at the Morong track site in Qamdo Prefecture and resemble Brontopodus (sauropod dinosaur tracks).

The dinosaurs might be 18-meters-long, longer than two buses, said Xing Lida, 29 year-old Chinese Ph.D candidate.

"The owners of the footprints are sauropod dinosaurs who had large bodies. The only modern animal that can be mentioned in the same breath is the blue whale," he told Xinhua.

The tracks were first discovered in 1999 when workers were building the airport highway in the remote town. An explosion set off by the workers exposed the prints.

Buddhists believed that the footprints must belong to King Gesar, while others claimed the explosion scared the mountain gods and drove them away, and the footprints were made as the gods fled.

"The fear towards nature comes from the unknown," Xing said.

Xing first visited the site in 2003 and considered the tracks to be Brontopodus. In 2004, archaeologists at Sichuan University announced the footprint must have been left 150 million years ago. Then in 2010, Xing had a second chance to visit the tracks. "Many people do not know that Tibet also had dinosaurs. Actually, the sauropod dinosaur tracks in the Early-Middle Jurassic period are rare across the world, which gave them academic value," Xing said.

At the same time, dinosaurs in Qamdo and those in the neighboring Sichuan basin used to be considered as similar to each other, but the Titanosauriformes did not appear in Sichuan during the Jurassic period. The appearance of the sauropod dinosaur, a kind of Titanosauriformes, made the difference between the two places.

According to geologic conditions here, the area used to be under the sea and the footprints were left in the mud, he said.

"Maybe the dinosaurs were strolling along the seaside," he said.

Xing said he tried to tell local residents that they were dinosaur footprints, and not Gesar's. People simply thought he was blaspheming the king. However, with his efforts, some people did begin to believe him.

"But they just turned to worship the Dinosaur God, and continue to give kha-btags to the footprints," he said.

"In Tibet, nothing can change the fear and respect of nature, which made the place more attractive," said the young paleontologist.

Source: Xinhua
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