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Thieves walk off with sacred dinosaur footprints

print October 15, 1996
Web posted at: 11:45 p.m. EDT (0345 GMT)

MELBOURNE, Australia (CNN) -- The only known set of fossilized Stegosaurus footprints, left some 130 million years ago, have been stolen from the outback, angering aborigines.

The theft of the fossils was discovered on a visit to the sacred site last week, the Western Australian Museum said Tuesday. It appeared power tools were used to remove the prints from the rock, according to the museum's senior paleontologist, Ken McNamara.

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Aborigines believe the prints belong to a mythical creature from their "Dream Time." The footprints were part of a "song line" of sites used in their ceremonies, said anthropologist Patrick Sullivan.

"It's a very sacred thing to me," said Joseph Roe, aboriginal custodian for the past eight years of the footprints near Broome, on the country's remote northwest coast.

"According to aboriginal tradition, whoever has taken them has placed themselves in great danger," he said. "They might get sick or I might get sick."

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The offense was punishable by death under aboriginal law, he said.

"If he (a thief) comes to face me I will put a spear through him and finish him," Roe said by telephone from Broome, a tourist town over 1,800 miles northwest of Sydney.

The stegosaurus was a herbivore that stood around 10 feet tall with a double row of spikes along its back, McNamara said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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