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Dinosaur footprints believed to be 170 million-year-old found in Scotland

The footprints, left in a muddy, shallow lagoon, about 170 million years ago in Isle of Skye are helping the researchers build a more accurate picture of an important period in dinosaur evolution. This is the second discovery of such footprints on the Scottish island.

science Updated: Apr 03, 2018 17:02 IST
Press Trust of India, London
Dozens of newly discovered giant dinosaur footprints on a Scottish island are helping to shed light on the Jurassic reptiles’ evolution.(REUTERS)

Scientists have discovered about 50 giant footprints left behind by the world’s largest dinosaurs dating back 170 million years. The prints are thought to be the oldest dinosaur fossils ever found in Scotland and may shed light on an important period of dinosaur evolution, scientists said on Tuesday.

The tracks were made in a muddy, shallow lagoon in what is now the north-east coast of the Isle of Skye in Scotland, according to researchers at the University of Edinburgh. Most of the prints were made by long-necked sauropods — which stood up to two metres tall — and by similarly sized theropods, which were the older cousins of Tyrannosaurus rex.

A theropod footprint discovered at Brothers' Point on the Isle of Skye in Scotland is seen in this undated photograph supplied by Edinburgh University on April 2, 2018. (REUTERS)

“This tracksite is the second discovery of sauropod footprints on Skye,” said Paige dePolo from the University of Edinburgh.

“This site is a useful building block for us to continue fleshing out a picture of what dinosaurs were like on Skye in the Middle Jurassic,” said dePolo, who led the study published in the Scottish Journal of Geology.

The find is globally important as it is rare evidence of the Middle Jurassic period, from which few fossil sites have been found around the world. Researchers measured, photographed and analysed about 50 footprints in a tidal area. The footprints were difficult to study owing to tidal conditions, the impact of weathering and changes to the landscape.

Most of the prints were made by the “older cousins” of Tyrannosaurus rex, called theropods - which stood up to two metres tall - and by similarly sized long-necked sauropods. (REUTERS)

In spite of this, scientists identified two trackways in addition to many isolated foot prints.

Researchers used drone photographs to make a map of the site. Additional images were collected using a paired set of cameras and tailored software to help model the prints.

Analysis of the clearest prints — including the overall shape of the track outline, the shape and orientation of the toes, and the presence of claws — enabled scientists to ascribe them to sauropods and theropods.

The 170 million-year-old tracks were made in a muddy lagoon off the north-east coast of what is now the Isle of Skye. (REUTERS)

“The more we look on the Isle of Skye, the more dinosaur footprints we find,” said Steve Brusatte from the University of Edinburgh.

“This new site records two different types of dinosaurs - long-necked cousins of Brontosaurus and sharp-toothed cousins of T rex — hanging around a shallow lagoon, back when Scotland was much warmer and dinosaurs were beginning their march to global dominance,” said Brusatte.

First Published: Apr 03, 2018 17:02 IST