Fossil dinosaur tracks found on Skye

A collection of rare dinosaur tracks is helping scientists shed light on some of the biggest animals ever to live on land.

Hundreds of footprints and handprints made by plant-eating sauropods around 170 million years ago have been found on the Isle of Skye.

The discovery - which is the biggest dinosaur site yet found in Scotland - helps fill an important gap in the evolution of the huge, long-necked animals, which were the biggest of the dinosaurs.

Prehistoric giants

Edinburgh scientists identified the tracks in layers of rock, which would have been at the bottom of a shallow, salt water lagoon when the prints were made.

By analysing the structure of the footprints, the team found that the dinosaurs were early, distant relatives of more well-known species, such Diplodocus.

The Skye dinosaurs likely grew to at least 15 metres in length and weighed more than 10 tonnes.

Rare fossils

The footprints - the largest of which is 70 cm in diameter - are the first sauropod tracks to be found in Scotland.

Until now, the only evidence that sauropods lived in Scotland came from a small number of bone and teeth fragments.

Fossils from the Middle Jurassic Period are extremely rare, and the Isle of Skye is one of the few places in the world where they can be found.

Dinosaurs’ lifestyles

Together with similar tracks found in other parts of the world, the Skye trackways reveal that sauropods spent lots of time in coastal areas and shallow water.

It was previously thought that large dinosaurs were purely land-dwellers.

A University-led team found the trails during fieldwork in collaboration with Skye’s Staffin Museum and other Scottish institutions.

The study, published in Scottish Journal of Geology, was supported by The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.

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 BrusatteChancellor's Fellow in Vertebrate Palaentology, School of GeoSciences