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50 perfectly-preserved dinosaur footprints have scientists freaking out

Dinosaur footprints Isle of Skye

Dozens of giant dinosaur footprints have been discovered on a remote Scottish island, shedding light on period of dinosaur evolution which relatively little is known about. The prints were made 170 million years ago, in what is now a muddy lagoon on Scotland’s Isle of Skye.

The prints were discovered in an area that’s impacted by tidal movement and weathering, which makes the detail even more impressive. Analysis of the prints allowed researchers to clearly determine the shape and orientation of toes, as well as the presence of claws. The prints were made mostly by four-legged sauropods, which were 10 to 15 meters in length and weighed 15,000 pounds. Some three-clawed prints are attributed to theropods, a smaller carnivorous dinosaur.

“This tracksite is the second discovery of sauropod footprints on Skye,” Paige dePolo, the lead author of the study, published in the Scottish Journal of Geology, said in a statement. “It was found in rocks that were slightly older than those previously found at Duntulm on the island and demonstrates the presence of sauropods in this part of the world through a longer timescale than previously known. This site is a useful building block for us to continue fleshing out a picture of what dinosaurs were like on Skye in the Middle Jurassic.”

At the time when sauropods and theropods roamed the Isle of Skye, it wasn’t the wet and misty northern isle that it is today. Rather than hikers and adventurous BMX riders, Skye existed much closer to the equator, with a subtropical climate.

“The Middle Jurassic was a pretty important time: It was some time around then that the first birds took to the sky, the first tyrannosaurs were evolving, [and] the first really colossal sauropods were getting their start,” study co-author Steve Brusatte told National Geographic. “Skye is one of the few places you can find these fossils.”