Colossal dinosaurs existed in Scotland about 170 million years ago, scientists at the University of Edinburgh announced after discovering huge footprints and handprints of sauropods in the Isle of Skye. Sauropods were the largest land animals ever to exist on Earth, scientists believe.
Dr. Steve Brusatte, a Chancellor’s Fellow in Vertebrate Palaentology at the University’s School of Geosciences, and colleagues, which included people from Skye’s Staffin Museum, wrote about their discovery in the Scottish Journal of Geology.
The authors said they discovered hundreds of footprints and handprints made by sauropods – massive plant-eating dinosaurs with relatively small heads and long necks. Some of these animals were up to 120 feet long. However, the researchers believe the ones that existed in Scotland were smaller, at least 15 metres (49 feet) long, which is still pretty big.
Sauropods were gigantic, plant-eating dinosaurs that preferred shallow waters and coastal areas.
A major find for Scotland
This is by far the biggest dinosaur discovery ever found in Scotland. Dr. Brusatte and colleagues said it helps fill an important gap in the evolution of these colossal animals.
They identified the tracks on layers of rock, which would have been at the bottom of a shallow, salt-water lagoon 170 million years ago.
Following a careful analysis of the structure of the footprints and handprints, the team found that these dinosaurs were early, distant relatives of Brontosaurus and Diplodocus, which existed 155 million to 152 million years ago.
The largest footprint they found was 27.5 inches (70 centimetres) in diameter. This is the first time any sauropod footprints or handprints have been discovered in Scotland. The only evidence that these animals existed in the area had come from some teeth and bone fragments.
Middle Jurassic Period fossils are extremely rare, and the Isle of Skye is one of the few places worldwide where they can be found.
The discovery has also helped scientists better understand the habitats and lifestyles of the largest animals ever to have walked on land.
These sauropod footprints, found on the Isle of Skye, would have been at the bottom of a shallow lagoon about 170 million years ago. (Image: eurekalert.org. Credit: Steve Brusatte)
Sauropods preferred areas with shallow water
After analyzing these tracks and some others in different parts of the world, researchers can now be fairly sure that sauropods preferred shallow water and coastal areas. It had been suggested that sauropods were purely dry land-dwellers.
The authors wrote:
“The new Skye tracks document multiple generations of sauropods living within the lagoonal environments of Jurassic Scotland, and along with other tracks found over the past two decades, suggest that sauropods may have frequented such environments, contrary to their image as land-bound behemoths.”
Dr. Brusatte explained:
“The new tracksite from Skye is one of the most remarkable dinosaur discoveries ever made in Scotland. There are so many tracks crossing each other that it looks like a dinosaur disco preserved in stone.”
“By following the tracks you can walk with these dinosaurs as they waded through a lagoon 170 million years ago, when Scotland was so much warmer than today.”
Dr. Stephen Brusatte is an American paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, who specializes in the anatomy and evolution of dinosaurs. His book – Dinosaurs – published in 2008 earned him wide acclaim. He became resident palaeontologist and scientific consultant for the BBC Earth and 20th Century Fox’s 2013 film ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’. (Image: www.ed.ac.uk)
Co-author Dr. Tom Challands, Teaching Fellow in Hydrocarbon Geology at the School of GeoSciences, said:
“This find clearly establishes the Isle of Skye as an area of major importance for research into the Mid-Jurassic period. It is exhilarating to make such a discovery and being able to study it in detail, but the best thing is this is only the tip of the iceberg.”
“I’m certain Skye will keep yielding great sites and specimens for years to come.”
Funding for the study came from the University of Edinburgh and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.
Reference: “Sauropod dinosaur trackways in a Middle Jurassic lagoon on the Isle of Skye, Scotland,” Thomas J. Challands, Stephen L. Brusatte, Dugald A. Ross and Mark Wilkinson. Scottish Journal of Geology. December 1, 2015. DOI: 10.1144/sjg2015-005.
Video – Lecture on Sauropod Dinosaurs