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Dinosaur Footprints Reveal Larger Antecedents Once Trudged Through Scottish Lagoons

Dec 02, 2015 01:12 PM EST
Dinosaur Stomping Ground
170 million years ago, giant sauropods could be seen tromping throughout prehistoric Scotland.
(Photo : Jon Hoad)

Enormous dinosaur footprints made in what would have been the bottom of a shallow salt water lagoon during the Middle Jurassic Period have been uncovered and they are shedding light on some of the largest animals to ever walk on land.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh recently examined hundreds of fossil footprints and handprints in layers of rock, that were originally made by large plant-eating, long-necked sauropods some 170 million years ago, according to the university's news release. The imprints were found scattered throughout the Isle of Skye in Scotland, representing the largest dinosaur site discovered in the country to date.

"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," Dr. Steve Brusatte, leader of the recent study from the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences, said in a news release. "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."

Based on the structure of the tracks – some of which measure more than two feet across – the dinosaurs must have been roughly 50 feet long and weighed over 10 tons, researchers surmised. The large dinosaurs may have been earlyier distant relatives of more well-known species such as Brontosaurus or Diplodocus.

These foot prints, which appear to look like nothing more than tiny rocky pits to the untrained eye, are the first sauropod tracks to be found in Scotland. Previously, the only evidence suggesting the large animals existed in this area was from a small number of bone and teeth fragments.

The recent stomping ground adds some interesting insight to the evolution of sauropods, in part because scientists once thought the animals were too heavy to support themselves on land and instead spent their time wading through swamps. 

"This find clearly establishes the Isle of Skye as an area of major importance for research into the Mid-Jurassic period," Dr. Tom Challands, one of the study researchers, added in the release. "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."

Their study was recently published in the Scottish Journal of Geology.  

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