Dinosaur Discoveries in 2018

Written by Hayley Bricker, Science Libraries Research Assistant.

In April 2018, field paleontologists made an astounding discovery that had previously been hidden in plain site for decades: dozens of dinosaur footprints along the shore of Scotland's Isle of Skye.

Image of fossilized dinosaur prints.

[Sauropod prints]

The Isle of Skye is composed of some of the oldest surviving rocks on Earth, making them likely conduits of deep geologic history. The footprints recently discovered were most likely laid down during the Middle Jurassic, approximately 174 million years ago, by a massive family of dinosaurs called 'sauropods.' The Middle Jurassic is one of the least-studied eras in paleontology history due to tremendous lack of well-preserved fossil evidence. Tectonic plate dynamics indicates that Skye was located along the equator during the Middle Jurassic, making the local environment subtropical, rainy, filled with lagoons, and particularly biodiverse. These particular prints were most likely laid down in such an environment, which would indicate why the prints are so well preserved.

[Image of geologic timeline,  by William L. Kruczynski & Pamela J. Fletcher]

The name 'sauropod' is used to define an entire family of dinosaur species. Sauropods had long necks, thick legs, very tiny heads and were approximately 20 feet long. The prints discovered on Skye are distinctly from sauropods because of the large heel pads and thick three toes. Some of the prints appear to have been laid down by another family of dinosaurs, known as 'theropods', which are commonly believed to be an older cousin of the famed Tyrannosaurus rex species.

Graphic of various types of sauropod dinosaurs.
[Sauropods]

Graphic depicting various types of theropod dinosaurs.

[Theropods]

The sauropod prints were not uncovered or excavated in any way, but rather had been mistaken for other geologic forms for as long as paleontologists have been investigating Skye. For decades, other fossil evidence had been found to suggest the presence of dinosaurs—such as another large field of prints found elsewhere on the island by the same field team in 2015. This indicated that Skye was a prime area for Middle Jurassic dinosaur studies. Field paleontologists used aerial drones to take a picture of the site, which was then surveyed for the prints. Careful examination of these particular prints show that they are very well-preserved, and exhibit details in foot and pad structure not always recorded in fossilized sauropod prints.

Analysis of the prints show that they belonged to a large group of sauropods, most likely a herd or several families, and not simply a few dinosaurs traversing the area at a time. The proximity indicates that these dinosaurs were probably grazing or casually lingering near water holes, which would have been abundant in an equatorial climate. 

Map of Scotland, showing the field site location.

[Image of the field site]

Image of two men standing next to fossilized dinosaur footprints.

[Discoverers, Steve Brusatte (right) and Tom Challands (left) stand alongside the discovered prints]

The find is a milestone for Middle Jurassic-sauropod studies, filling out the paleontological history of this era further, and extending the previously accepted time-frame of sauropod activity. These details lend crucial support and evidence to theories of dinosaur behavior and cohabitation, particularly in light of the theropod association.

You can read more about dinosaurs, sauropods, and the geologic history of the Isle of Skye in the UCLA Library Collections:

Paige E. dePolo, Stephen L. Brusatte, Thomas J. Challands, Davide Foffa, Dugald A. Ross, Mark Wilkinson and Hon. A sauropod-dominated tracksite from Rubha nam Brathairean (Brothers’ Point), Isle of Skye, Scotland. Scottish Journal of Geology, Vol. 54, pg. 1-12, 2 April 2018.

Stephen L. Brusatte, Thomas J. Challands, Dugald A. Ross and Mark Wilkinson. Sauropod dinosaur trackways in a Middle Jurassic lagoon on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. Scottish Journal of Geology, Vol. 52, pg. 1-9, 1 December 2015.

Martin, Anthony J. Dinosaurs Without Bones: Dinosaur Lives Revealed by their Trace Fossils. New York: Pegasus Books, 2014.

Naish, Darren & Barrett, Paul. Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2016.

Hallett, M. & Wedel, Matthew J. Sauropod Dinosaurs: Life in the Age of Giants. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016.

Debus, Allen A. Dinosaurs Ever Evolving: The Changing Face of Prehistoric Animals in Popular Culture. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company,  Inc., Publishers, 2016.

Woodward, John. Everything You Need to Know About Dinosaurs: And Other Prehistoric Creatures. New York, New York: DK Publishing, 2014.

Woodcock, Nigel & Strachan, Rob. Geological History of Britain and Ireland. Chichester, West Sussex; Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2012.