Dinosaurs of Skye: 40 years of fossil discoveries on the island

Dinosaurs of Skye: 40 years of fossil discoveries on the island

Forty years ago, a scientific paper written by a young student revealed for the first time the presence of dinosaur fossils on the Isle of Skye.

Since then, a whole host of discoveries have been made, including a “dinosaur disco” made up of dozens of footprints, a bone from a Tyrannosaurus ancestor, and fossils of winged reptiles called pterosaurs.

  • author, Stephen Mackenzie
  • Role, BBC Scotland News

Who found Skye’s first dinosaur fossil?

Image source, Julian Andrews

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Professor Julian Andrews in a photo from his 1982 field trip to Skye

It was 1982, and Julian Andrews, a 22-year-old first-year PhD student at the University of Leicester, was on a field trip to the rugged north coast of Skye.

The young scientist wasn’t looking for dinosaurs.

He sought to better understand the environmental conditions under which ancient Middle Jurassic sedimentary rocks formed on the island.

“It was at the end of the morning, and as you do when you’re in the field, I moved away from where we were working to look at the whole context,” says Andrews, today an emeritus professor at the University of East Anglia. .

“I put my hand on a block of limestone, just to steady myself.

“I looked under my hand and thought, ‘Oh, that’s funny. “There’s some kind of mass there.”

When he saw the shape of three toes he realized he had found a dinosaur footprint.

Earlier in the trip, supervising scientist John Hudson said no dinosaur fossils had been found on Skye, although the rocks were the right type for such discoveries.

Professor Andrews said: “I went back to him and said: ‘Did you say no one had found any dinosaur remains on Skye?’

“Well, I guess we have it now.”

What happened to the 1982 discovery?

Image source, Julian Andrews

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Professor Andrews’s photo of dinosaur footprints

Professor Andrews and his supervisor measured and recorded the fossil and the rocks it was in, then had to leave it where it was.

“It was on a huge mass of rock, and it was on a very remote part of the coast,” says Professor Andrews.

“It was unlikely that anyone else would find it because it was not easy to find and access.”

The discovery remained a secret until 1983 when experts arrived to remove it. Unfortunately, the fossil split into two parts.

Professor Andrews says boxes of fish that had washed up as marine litter on the beach were used to move the two pieces offshore.

It was eventually transferred to the Hunterian Museum at the University of Glasgow for analysis.

In 1984 – 40 years ago – Professor Andrews’ paper on the fossil was published.

It was confirmation of the first dinosaur fossil in Scotland.

More discoveries – and a mysterious package in the post

Image source, Dr. Neil Clark

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Dr Neil Clarke, from the University of Glasgow, with Skye’s fossil print

It would be 10 years before the next dinosaur, a theropod bone from the Early Jurassic period, was found in Heist.

Dr Neil Clark, curator of paleontology at The Hunterian, recalls how BP oil workers on a field trip in 1994 discovered part of another bone.

“There were chisel marks in the rock indicating that someone had found another piece and then run away with it,” says Dr. Clark.

“We decided to take a closer look to find out where the missing piece is.

“There has been some press coverage about the dinosaur bone – and the looting of Skye Rocks.”

Soon after, an anonymous package arrived in the mail for Dr. Clark.

Inside, the missing piece of bone was carefully wrapped in tattered bills.

The third and final part of the bone was later found in Skye by local restaurateurs.

Analysis determined that the bone was part of the leg of a sauropod dinosaur, which are large dinosaurs with long necks.

Another bone found by Dr. Clark was later identified as belonging to a Tyrannosaurus ancestor.

Other important discoveries include:

  • 2002 – Local hoteliers Paul and Cathy Booth discovered footprints in Staffin
  • 2006 -A fossil was found while digging. Nearly 20 years later it was identified as a pterosaur.
  • 2015 – Paleontologists Steve Brusatte and Tom Challands have found more than 100 footprints and handprints left by giant, long-necked dinosaurs. Professor Brusatte, from the University of Edinburgh, said the site looked like a “dinosaur disco”.
  • 2017 – Student Amelia Penny noticed a pterosaur skull sticking out of a rock north of Portree. The creature is given the Gaelic name Dearc sgiathanach

How old are Skye’s dinosaur fossils?

Image source, Dr. Neil Clark

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Sauropod imprint on sky

They are from the Middle Jurassic period – which was between 162 million and 175 million years ago.

Paleontologists say it was a time period when there was an enormous diversity of dinosaurs.

There is very little evidence of dinosaurs found elsewhere in Scotland, largely because the rocks are much older than the time when reptiles ruled the land.

What do islanders think of their own “dinosaur island”?

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Dougald Ross established a paleontological museum as a teenager in 1976

Dougald Ross established a paleontological museum in Staffin in 1976 when he left school at the age of fifteen.

His collection at that time included ammonites, marine animals with a coiled shell.

Over the years, he has been involved in work to uncover dinosaur footprints and extract bones — including bones found in 1994 by oil workers.

Mr Ross is proud of Skye’s importance in understanding what life was like in the Middle Jurassic.

“The Isle of Skye is of particular interest because of the age of the fossils,” he says.

“That period is not well represented globally, which is why there is international interest.

“Very few places in the world have this age of rocks on the surface.”

Image source, Cathy Booth

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Paul and Cathy Booth with a fossil dinosaur footprint found in 2002

Cathy and Paul Booth live in Highland Perthshire, but were hoteliers in Skye when they discovered the fossils in January 2002.

Mrs Booth found her walking the family dog ​​in Staffin Bay.

“It had been windy and high tide the day before, and the sandy bay was full and covered with rocks,” she says.

“One of the loose stones had some interesting marks on it.”

I sent a photo to Dr. Clark who confirmed it was the print of a plant-eating dinosaur.

Ms Booth said: “He said it was an amazing discovery and that there could be a lot of interest, but I was still amazed by the media, radio and TV communication from the UK and all over the world at the time.”

Booth, whose discoveries include an 18-foot track and bones, said: “It seems amazing now that some of the things we discovered while living, working and raising a family in a little corner of Scotland have become so important in generating a better understanding of life during this Middle Jurassic period.”

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