Largest and best-preserved dinosaur footprints found in UK
The largest and best-preserved set of dinosaur footprints from the Cretaceous Period have been discovered in the UK, according to researchers.
An ankylosaur footprint with skin and claw impressions. Image courtesy of the University of Cambridge
More than 85 footprints made up of at least seven different species and including fine detail of skin and scales have been uncovered in East Sussex, scientists announced on 18 December.
The footprints, uncovered by the University of Cambridge researchers, are the 'most diverse and detailed' collection from the Cretaceous Period, 100 million years ago.
Cretaceous is a geologic period that spans 79 million years from the end of the Jurassic Period and ended with the mass extinction of dinosaurs.
Many of the footprints – which range in size from less than 2cm to over 60 cm across – are so well-preserved that fine detail of skin, scales and claws can be seen.
The researchers, funded by UK Research and Innovation’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), identified these historical findings between 2014 and 2018 following periods of coastal erosion along the cliffs near Hastings.
They said the recent strong storms in the area, including the ‘beast from the east’ at the end of last winter, led to sandstone and mudstone cliffs collapsing.
The footprints date from the Lower Cretaceous epoch, between 145 and 100 million years ago, with prints from herbivores including Iguanodon, Ankylosaurus, an unknown species of stegosaur, possible examples from the sauropod group (which included Diplodocus and Brontosaurus), as well as meat-eating theropods. The results are reported in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.
According to the university, over the past 160 years there have been reports of fossilised dinosaur footprints along the Sussex coast, but no new major discoveries have come to light. Earlier findings are far less detailed than those described in the current research.
The university says the area around Hastings is one of the richest in the UK for dinosaur fossils.
These include the first known iguanodon, unearthed in 1825, and the first confirmed example of fossilised dinosaur brain tissue identified in 2016.
The university say it is likely that there are many more dinosaur footprints hidden within the cliffs of East Sussex.
“Whole body fossils of dinosaurs are incredibly rare,” said Anthony Shillito, a PhD student in Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences and the paper’s first author.
“Usually you only get small pieces, which don’t tell you a lot about how that dinosaur may have lived. A collection of footprints like this helps you fill in some of the gaps and infer things about which dinosaurs were living in the same place at the same time.”
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