Trilobites: In Footprints on Scotland’s Isle of Skye, Signs of a Dinosaur Playground

Gigantic dinosaurs frolicked and splashed some 170 million years ago in the lagoons of what is now Scotland. That’s what a team of paleontologists has determined after discovering dozens of jumbo-sized footprints belonging to long-necked sauropods on the Isle of Skye. Mixed with the herbivores’ tracks were a few clawed impressions left behind by two-legged meat-eaters known as theropods.

The footprints present a snapshot of life during an important period in dinosaur history that has yielded relatively few fossil remains. In the mid-Jurassic, sauropods necks grew longer and the first birds were figuring out flight.


Paige dePolo searches for dinosaur tracks on the Isle of Sky. She and her colleagues helped identify about 50 footprints, including a few with long heels and claws.

University of Edinburgh

Identifying two types of footprints in the same place also challenges the idea that long-necked dinosaurs waded into shallow, muddy waters to escape predators, said Stephen Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and an author of the new study.

“We’re actually seeing these dinosaurs interacting with each other and interacting with their environment,” he said. The team reported their findings Monday in the Scottish Journal of Geology.

One of Dr. Brusatte’s graduate students, Davide Foffa, stumbled upon the first tracks in 2016 while the team explored the coasts for bones and teeth. Amid the tidal pools, he found a large impression that had been colored pinkish-purple by algae. Upon closer inspection, he discovered the outlines of toes and a fleshy heel pad — a sauropod footprint.

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That print became known as “the money track.”

“Once I saw that track, it was like I put on a different kind of glasses or something,” said Paige dePolo, who was then a master’s student working under Dr. Brusatte and is lead author of the new paper. “It helped me to see these other less distinct tracks.”

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