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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Aborigines Outraged by Prints Theft

MELBOURNE -- Fossil hunters have stolen a unique set of dinosaur footprints from a piece of sacred rock in outback Australia, outraging local aborigines.

The thieves apparently used power tools to remove the four footprints, thought to be the only known set of its kind and felt by aborigines to belong to a mythical creature from their "Dream Time," aborigines and scientists said on Tuesday.

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

Roe said he believed he, his family and the people who took the footprints could fall ill because of the theft.

"According to aboriginal tradition, whoever has taken them has placed themselves in great danger," he told state radio.

"They might get sick or I might get sick," he later told Reuters, warning that the offense was punishable by death under aboriginal law.

"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 more than 3,000 kilometers northwest of Sydney.

"The theft is a great loss -- both scientifically and culturally," he added.

The fossils are the world's only known footprints of a stegasaurus, a herbivore that stood around three meters tall and carried a double row of spikes along its back, said paleontologist Ken McNamara of the Western Australian Museum.

Anthropologist Patrick Sullivan, among a party of aborigines who discovered the theft last Wednesday, said the footprints were part of a "song line" of scared sites used in aboriginal ceremonies.

He said the aborigines with him were outraged, shocked and horrified to find the footprints missing.

"People responsible for looking after these areas feel that if they [sacred sites] were disturbed that sickness and other kinds of misfortune are going to come upon their communities and themselves, and of a very severe kind," he said from Broome.