How to calculate the height of a dinosaur from its footprint

From dinosaur footprints, how do you find the height of the dinosaur? Because human and dinosaur legs are similar, you can do it by measuring the length of your own leg and foot.

This is an effective example of how evidence from fossils can be used to tell us more about dinosaurs that lived millions of years ago. The 3-toed footprint suggests that this Ornithopod dinosaur walked on 2 legs, not four. The total length of the footprint from heel to toe is estimated from the footprint. Similarities between human and dinosaur skeletons are shown to suggest that dinosaurs and humans shared a common ancestor millions of years ago (evolution). The relative sizes of human feet and legs are measured by the children, and used to calculate the ratio of leg:foot length. This same ratio is then applied to the estimated length of the dinosaur footprint and used to predict the leg length of the dinosaur, and hence its overall height.

Teacher Notes

Key Stage 2:This is an effective example of how evidence from fossils can be used to tell us more about dinosaurs that lived millions of years ago. Pupils could then research information and find pictures about the different types of dinosaurs that roamed the Earth millions of years ago, and link their features to predict/explain where they lived and what they ate. Pupils could then create a timeline for evolution, mapping on it significant events, such as when the dinosaurs lived, when man first appeared etc. They might then consider how specific adaptations made animals more or less suited to their environment and the impact of changes in the environment over time.

Key Stage 3:This could provide a good example of how evidence from fossils can be used to tell us more about species of animals and plants that were alive millions of years ago. It could be used as a stimulus for further work on adaptation of species and how species have changed over time through natural selection. They might suggest reasons why the dinosaurs became extinct, and link this to more recent examples of species that are threatened with extinction.

Curriculum Notes

This clip will be relevant for teaching primary science at Key Stage 2 or Second Level in Scotland or physics at Key Stage 3 or Third Level in Scotland.

It could be used to teach the topics:

  • Fossils
  • Planet Earth – Prehistoric animals
  • Evolution
  • Genetics & Evolution