Scotland's Jurassic isle: fossils reveal stegosaurs roamed Skye during dinosaur age

Giant spiky-backed stegosaurs were among the prehistoric megabeasts roaming the Isle of Skye 170 million years ago, Scottish scientists have discovered.

This artist’s impression depicts three dinosaur types –  vegetarian stegosaurs and sauropods and carnivorous therapods – that have been identified from fossils on Skye
This artist’s impression depicts three dinosaur types – vegetarian stegosaurs and sauropods and carnivorous therapods – that have been identified from fossils on Skye

The findings come after researchers at the University of Edinburgh analysed around 50 fossilised footprints found near the shoreline on the island’s north-east coast.

The site, which was at the time a mudflat on the edge of a shallow lagoon on a long-lost island in the Atlantic, contains numerous footprints left by several prehistoric species.

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Previous studies had revealed that fierce, meat-eating cousins of Tyrannosaurus Rex and massive, long-necked sauropods were once resident there, earning Skye the reputation as Scotland’s Jurassic Island.

One of the 170m-year-old footprints fossilised in rocks on the Trotternish peninsula on Skye

Now the latest findings prove that a greater diversity of dinosaurs existed on the island than previously thought.

Palaeontologists from the University of Edinburgh made the discovery after examining a short sequence of distinctive, oval footprints and handprints preserved in rocks on the shoreline at Rubha nam Brathairean, or Brothers’ Point – a dramatic headland on the Trotternish peninsula.

The team concluded that the impressions had been left by a young animal or small member of the plant-eating stegosaur family as it ambled across the mudflat.

Skye is one of the few places in the world where fossils from the Middle Jurassic period – which lasted from around 176 to 161 million years ago – can be found.

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The latest revelation means Rubha nam Brathairean is now recognised as bearing one of the oldest-known fossil records of this major dinosaur group.

Study leader Paige dePolo, a post-graduate student at the university’s School of GeoSciences, said: “These new track sites help us get a better sense of the variety of dinosaurs that lived near the coast of Skye during the Middle Jurassic than what we can glean from the island’s body fossil record.

“In particular, Deltapodus tracks give good evidence that stegosaurs lived on Skye at this time.”

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Colleague Dr Steve Brusatte, was also involved in the study and led the field team.

He said: “Our findings give us a much clearer picture of the dinosaurs that lived in Scotland 170 million years ago.

“We knew there were giant long-necked sauropods and jeep-sized carnivores but we can now add plate-backed stegosaurs to that roster – and maybe even primitive cousins of the duck-billed dinosaurs too. These discoveries are making Skye one of the best places in the world for understanding dinosaur evolution in the Middle Jurassic.”

Stegosaurs could grow up to 30 feet long and weigh more than six tonnes.

The are easily recognisable due to an imposing row of diamond-shaped plates running along their spines and spikes on their tails that were thought to be used as a weapon.

Previous finds show the seas around Skye were also home to some formidable creatures during the same period.

The fossilised skeleton of a fierce predatory dolphin-like reptile with hundreds of cone-shaped teeth was discovered a few miles away.

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Dubbed the Storr Lochs Monster, it was finally extracted from the rock that encased it for millions of years in 2016.

It is the most complete skeleton of a marine reptile from the age of dinosaurs that has ever been found in Scotland.



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