In the early 1960s, a startling discovery came to light in the backyard of the farming community of Beit Zayit west of Jerusalem – footprints of mysterious creatures embedded in bedrock. With the help of experts the mystery was solved – the footprints even became a star tourist attraction for a while as the only place in Israel, and reportedly one of the few in the Middle East, where evidence of dinosaurs can be seen.
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Hebrew University paleontologist Prof. Moshe Avnimelech identified some of the footprints as belonging to a species science calls Struthiomimus. That species never made it into “Jurassic Park,” but if you’re touring Israel with dinosaur devotees of any age, a visit to a much smaller park in Moshav Beit Zayit where the prints are preserved, will be fun and interesting.
Experts estimate that the Struthiomimus, whose name literally means “ostrich-mimic” which made the tracks, was about 3.6 meters long from the tip of its tail to the top of its head, and weighed about 150 kilograms. They say the creature galloped across the landscape on its three-toed hind legs – at a speed of some 30 kilometers an hour – not much slower than you’ll be driving through Beit Zayit. (You’ll see that the middle toe impression is around 24-27 cm long and the side toes are shorter – 20 cm.) At that time, as nearby plant fossils show, this Beit Zayit backyard was near the shoreline of an antediluvian sea some 90–100 million years ago.
Moshav Beit Zayit is located right off the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway (Route 1) with a well-signposted exit from either direction. The gate to the park is kept locked; but the people at the offices of the Beit Zayit community council in the center of the moshav will hand you the key for NIS 10 a visitor, as long as you arrive during office hours, Sunday through Thursday 9 A.M. to 3 P.M. The park is located right across the street from the Derech Hagefen Restaurant.