Paleontologists have just discovered the largest known dinosaur site in Scotland at a site that was a sandy, saltwater lagoon.
The location at the Duntulm Formation of Cairidh Ghlumaig on the Isle of Skye, includes hundreds of footprints and handprints made by plant-eating sauropods during the Jurassic period, reports a study published in the new issue of the Scottish Journal of Geology.
Stephen Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences told Discovery News that the 44,092-pound dinosaurs, which measured over 49 feet long, "left their footprints in an ancient lagoon 170 million years ago."
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Lagoons are stretches of salt water separated from the sea by a coral bank or, in this case, low sandy dunes. To this day, locals and tourists alike are drawn to the scenic and tranquil sandy beaches at the Isle of Skye.
"Surprisingly, the new discovery shows that these big dinosaurs spent lots of time in coastal areas and shallow water," Brusatte said. "We used to think that they were purely land-dwellers."
The footprints reveal that the beach-loving dinosaurs were distant relatives of more well known species, such as Brontosaurus and Diplodocus. The largest of the prints measures about 27.5 inches.
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The prints represent 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.
These footprints, along with other tracks found recently at additional sites around the world, reveal that sauropods spent a lot of time hanging out at coastal areas, wading in shallow water. Now the question is: what else were they doing there, and how might the location have affected their diet?
That is not known yet, but the recently discovered site is already gaining dino fans.
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"The new tracksite from Skye is one of the most remarkable dinosaur discoveries ever made in Scotland," Brusatte said. "There are so many tracks crossing each other that it looks like a dinosaur disco preserved in stone. 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."
Co-author Thomas Challands said that the find clearly establishes the Isle of Skye as an area of major importance for research into the Mid-Jurassic period.
"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," Challands added. "I'm certain Skye will keep yielding great sites and specimens for years to come."