Nav: Home

'Treasure trove' of dinosaur footprints found in southern England

December 17, 2018

More than 85 well-preserved dinosaur footprints - made by at least seven different species - have been uncovered in East Sussex, representing the most diverse and detailed collection of these trace fossils from the Cretaceous Period found in the UK to date.

The footprints were identified by University of Cambridge researchers between 2014 and 2018, following periods of coastal erosion along the cliffs near Hastings. Many of the footprints - which range in size from less than 2 cm to over 60 cm across - are so well-preserved that fine detail of skin, scales and claws is easily visible.

The footprints date from the Lower Cretaceous epoch, between 145 and 100 million years ago, with prints from herbivores including Iguanodon, Ankylosaurus, a species of stegosaur, and 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.

Over the past 160 years, there have been sporadic reports of fossilised dinosaur footprints along the Sussex coast, but no new major discoveries have been described for the past quarter century and the earlier findings were far less varied and detailed than those described in the current research.

The area around Hastings is one of the richest in the UK for dinosaur fossils, including the first known Iguanodon in 1825, and the first confirmed example of fossilised dinosaur brain tissue in 2016. However, trace fossils such as footprints, which can help scientists learn more about the composition of dinosaur communities, are less common in the area.

"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."

The footprints described in the current study, which Shillito co-authored with Dr Neil Davies, were uncovered during the past four winters, when strong storms and storm surges led to periods of collapse of the sandstone and mudstone cliffs.

In the Cretaceous Period, the area where the footprints were found was likely near a water source, and in addition to the footprints, a number of fossilised plants and invertebrates were also found.

"To preserve footprints, you need the right type of environment," said Davies. "The ground needs to be 'sticky' enough so that the footprint leaves a mark, but not so wet that it gets washed away. You need that balance in order to capture and preserve them."

"As well as the large abundance and diversity of these prints, we also see absolutely incredible detail," said Shillito. "You can clearly see the texture of the skin and scales, as well as four-toed claw marks, which are extremely rare.

"You can get some idea about which dinosaurs made them from the shape of the footprints - comparing them with what we know about dinosaur feet from other fossils lets you identify the important similarities. When you also look at footprints from other locations you can start to piece together which species were the key players."

As part of his research, Shillito is studying how dinosaurs may have affected the flows of rivers. In modern times, large animals such as hippopotamuses or cows can create small channels, diverting some of the river's flow.

"Given the sheer size of many dinosaurs, it's highly likely that they affected rivers in a similar way, but it's difficult to find a 'smoking gun', since most footprints would have just washed away," said Shillito. "However, we do see some smaller-scale evidence of their impact; in some of the deeper footprints you can see thickets of plants that were growing. We also found evidence of footprints along the banks of river channels, so it's possible that dinosaurs played a role in creating those channels."

It's likely that there are many more dinosaur footprints hidden within the eroding sandstone cliffs of East Sussex, but the construction of sea defences in the area to slow or prevent the process of coastal erosion may mean that they remained locked within the rock.
-end-
The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

University of Cambridge

Related Dinosaur Articles:

To think like a dinosaur
Palaeontologists from St Petersburg University have been the first to study in detail the structure of the brain and blood vessels in the skull of the ankylosaur Bissektipelta archibaldi.
New feathered dinosaur was one of the last surviving raptors
Dineobellator notohesperus lived 67 million years ago. Steven Jasinski, who recently earned his doctorate from the School of Arts and Sciences working with Peter Dodson, also of the School of Veterinary Medicine, described the find.
The dinosaur in the cupboard under the stairs
The mystery surrounding dinosaur footprints on a cave ceiling in Central Queensland has been solved after more than a half a century.
How did dinosaur parents know when their kids had a fever?
How Did Dinosaur Parents Know When Their Kids Had a Fever?
Dinosaur brains from baby to adult
New research by a University of Bristol palaeontology post-graduate student has revealed fresh insights into how the braincase of the dinosaur Psittacosaurus developed and how this tells us about its posture.
Dinosaur bones are home to microscopic life
Scientists went looking for preserved collagen, the protein in bone and skin, in dinosaur fossils.
Thai dinosaur is a cousin of T. rex
Scientists from the University of Bonn and the Sirindhorn Museum in Thailand have identified two new dinosaur species.
The fossilization process of the dinosaur remains
A piece of work conducted between the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country and the University of Zaragoza has conducted an in-depth analysis of the dinosaur fossils at La Cantalera-1, one of the Iberian sites belonging to the Lower Cretaceous with the largest number of vertebrates.
Scientists found new giant dinosaur
Paleontologists from Russia have described a new dinosaur, the Volgatitan.
A toast to the proteins in dinosaur bones
Burnt toast and dinosaur bones have a common trait, according to a new, Yale-led study.
More Dinosaur News and Dinosaur Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Meditations on Loneliness
Original broadcast date: April 24, 2020. We're a social species now living in isolation. But loneliness was a problem well before this era of social distancing. This hour, TED speakers explore how we can live and make peace with loneliness. Guests on the show include author and illustrator Jonny Sun, psychologist Susan Pinker, architect Grace Kim, and writer Suleika Jaouad.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.