"A dinosaur disco preserved in stone": Scientists find tracks of long-necked sauropod dinosaurs from 170 million years ago in Scottish lagoons

By Culture24 Reporter | 02 December 2015

Experts say footprint discoveries are "tip of the iceberg" on Isle of Skye

A photo of dinosaur footprints on rocks across an island
Tracks made by sauropod dinosaurs on Skye 170 million years ago© Steve Brusatte
Scientists who have found a series of huge sauropod prints in Scotland say long-necked dinosaurs could have lived in lagoons there around 170 million years ago, using the pools to cool their bodies, hide from larger dinosaurs or find more abundant food sources.

Sauropods could have supported their “hopelessly heavy” weight by lounging in swamps, according to a University of Edinburgh team following in the footsteps of the plant-eating behemoths, left in layers of rock at the bottom of a shallow salt water lagoon on the Isle of Skye.

A photo of dinosaur footprints on rocks across an island
Convex hyporelief tracks from the Duntulm Formation in Cairidh Ghlumaig© Steve Brusatte
“The new tracksite from Skye is one of the most remarkable dinosaur discoveries ever made in Scotland,” says Dr Steve Brusatte, of the university’s School of GeoSciences.

“There are so many tracks crossing each other that it looks like a dinosaur disco preserved in stone.

A photo of dinosaur footprints on rocks across an island
Dr Steve Brusatte (left) and Dr Tom Challands pose by the sauropod tracks© Mark Wilkinson
“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.”

The dinosaurs were early distant relatives of more well-known species, such as Brontosaurus and Diplodocus. They left footprints up to 70 cm in diameter, growing to at least 15 metres in length and weighing more than 10 tonnes.

A photo of dinosaur footprints on rocks across an island
An artist's impression of sauropod dinosaurs on Skye© Jon Hoad
The primitive, non-neosauropod species had a huge claw on a manual digit and feet with straight digits, leaving behind narrowgauge trackways.

Despite the dynamism of the Middle Jurassic interval in dinosaur evolution, the dinosaur fossil record from this time is meagre throughout the world. Their record in Scotland - entirely discovered on Skye - is restricted to isolated bones and teeth from a much warmer time when the country was covered by shallow seas, lagoons and large rivers.

A photo of dinosaur footprints on rocks across an island
A sediment cast of a print on Skye© Steve Brusatte
Shark teeth and marine bivalves were also found, suggesting that the tracks were made in an environment of aquatic species.

“It is exhilarating to make such a discovery and be able to study it in detail,” says Dr Tom Challands, a member of the team which found close similarities between the trackways and comparable prints left in Middle Jurassic Oxfordshire.

A photo of dinosaur footprints on rocks across an island
A well-preserved print from one of the beds© Steve Brusatte
“But the best thing is this is only the tip of the iceberg.

“This find clearly establishes the Isle of Skye as an area of major importance for research into the Mid-Jurassic period.

A photo of dinosaur footprints on rocks across an island
This line drawing of the trackways illustrates the narrow-gauge nature© Steve Brusatte
“I'm certain Skye will keep yielding great sites and specimens for years to come.”

The local Staffin Museum, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and other Scottish institutions collaborated on the fieldwork, which has resulted in a study published in the Scottish Journal of Geology.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of dinosaur footprints on rocks across an island
© Mark Wilkinson
Three museums to meet dinosaurs in

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow
The number of individual items in the natural history department alone here is vast. You can admire Sir Roger the Elephant or wonder at 300-million-year-old fossils of marine life from the Glasgow area.

Great North Museum Hancock, Newcastle
Learn about the major changes to the landscape and the animals and plants that were around millions of years ago in the permanent Fossil Stories exhibition. Visitors can become palaeontologists and re-assemble a pre-historic creature using virtual technology.

The Staffin Museum, Isle of Skye
Excellent collections of local geological and fossil specimens, as well as representative artifacts illustrating prehistory and social history on the Trotternish.
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