Definitive criteria for distinguishing gastroliths from sedimentary clasts are lacking for many depositional settings, and many reported occurrences of gastroliths either cannot be verified or have been refuted. We discuss four occurrences of gastrolith-like stones (category 6 exoliths) not found within skeletal remains from the Upper Triassic Bull Run Formation of northern Virginia, USA. Despite their lack of obvious skeletal association, the most parsimonious explanation for several characteristics of these stones is their prolonged residence in the gastric mills of large animals. These characteristics include 1) typical gastrolith microscopic surface texture, 2) evidence of pervasive surface wear on many of these stones that has secondarily removed variable amounts of thick weathering rinds typically found on these stones, and 3) a width/length-ratio modal peak for these stones that is more strongly developed than in any population of fluvial or fanglomerate stones of any age found in this region. When taken together, these properties of the stones can be explained most parsimoniously by animal ingestion and gastric-mill abrasion. The size of these stones indicates the animals that swallowed them were large, and the best candidate is a prosauropod dinosaur, possibly an ancestor of the Early Jurassic gastrolith-producing prosauropod Massospondylus or Ammosaurus. Skeletal evidence for Upper Triassic prosauropods is lacking in the Newark Supergroup basins; footprints (Agrestipus hottoni and Eubrontes isp.) from the Bull Run Formation in the Culpeper basin previously ascribed to prosauropods are now known to be underprints (Brachychirotherium parvum) of an aetosaur and underprints (Kayentapus minor) of a ceratosaur. The absence of prosauropod skeletal remains or footprints in all but the uppermost (upper Rhaetian) Triassic rocks of the Newark Supergroup is puzzling because prosauropod remains are abundant elsewhere in the world in Upper Triassic (Carnian, Norian, and lower Rhaetian) continental strata. The apparent scarcity of prosauropods in Upper Triassic strata of the Newark Supergroup is interpreted as an artifact of ecological partitioning, created by the habitat range and dietary preferences of phytosaurs and by the preservational biases at that time within the lithofacies of the Newark Supergroup basins.
Additional Publication Details
Evidence for prosauropod dinosaur gastroliths in the Bull Run Formation (Upper Triassic, Norian) of Virginia
Ichnos:an International Journal of Plant and Animal