A record-breaking dinosaur footprint appears on the Yorkshire coast

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A giant carnivorous dinosaur probably rested or crouched in Yorkshire 166 million years ago, digging its feet deep into the ground. The colossal creature left a record-breaking footprint that was recently discovered on the UK’s Dinosaur Coast.

The footprint from the Jurassic is the largest of its kind in the county of Yorkshire, measuring almost a meter in length.

Thousands of dinosaur footprints and many fossils have been recovered along the Yorkshire coast over the years. But that discovery was made by local archaeologist Marie Woods in April 2021 while walking along the coast.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, I had to do a double take,” Woods said in a statement. “I’ve seen a few smaller prints when I was out with friends, but nothing like that. I can no longer say ‘archaeologists don’t make dinosaurs’.”

Woods is co-author of a study describing the footprint, published Tuesday in the journal Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society.

(From left) John Hudson, Marie Woods and Dean Lomax are shown with the dinosaur footprint.

Woods turned to paleontologist Dr. Dean Lomax, Guest of Honor Scientist at the University of Manchester, to get his opinion on what she found at Burniston Bay, about 5km north of Scarborough. Just the day before, Lomax had shared a picture of a dinosaur footprint found in the same area in 2006.

“Marie contacted me while she was down on the beach with the fossil in front of her,” said study co-author Lomax, who is also the author of Dinosaurs of the British Isles.

“To be perfectly honest, at first I thought it was some kind of joke,” he said via email. “The fact that Marie then went out and saw that down on the beach seemed impossible. Also, Marie is an archaeologist, and she and I have always joked that one day she will make an amazing paleontological discovery.”

The three-toed footprint is one of only six found in the area, and the first was found in 1934.

“This important discovery provides further evidence that carnivorous giants once roamed this area during the Jurassic,” said study lead author and local geologist John Hudson. “The nature of the footprint combined with its age suggests that it came from a wild Megalosaurus-like dinosaur with a possible hip height of between 2.5 and 3 meters (between 8.2 and 9.8 feet).”

Megalosaurus was the world’s first official dinosaur, named after bones discovered in the county of Oxfordshire, England, in 1824, Lomax said.

This illustration shows a Megalosaurus, the dinosaur believed to have left the footprint.

One of the largest predators of its time, the carnivorous dinosaur had a large skull armed with sharp, serrated teeth, and its body reached 8 to 9 meters (26.2 to 29.5 ft) in length.

Concerned that the footprint might continue to erode if left along the coast, the team made sure it was moved safely. Fossil collectors Mark, Aaron and Shae Smith carefully collected the footprint and donated it to the Scarborough Museum and Galleries.

“We are incredibly grateful to Mark, Aaron and Shae for rescuing this important specimen and ensuring it was preserved for science,” said Lomax. “Now that the specimen has been examined, the plan is to put it on public display to capture the imagination of the next generation of fossil hunters.”

Hudson and Lomax were able to study the footprint in detail after it was placed, allowing researchers to learn more about the dinosaur that left the footprint. The duo analyzed the shape of the footprint, the number of toes and claw marks, and imprints of the dinosaur’s skin.

“The most intriguing feature of our footprint is a long piece preserved at the back of the foot, which is an imprint of what we call the metapodium,” Lomax said.

“The presence may indicate that our large carnivore crouched in the mud before getting up and walking away. It’s fun to imagine that this dinosaur might have been strolling through a muddy coastal plain on a lazy Sunday afternoon in the Jurassic.”

Fossil hunter Rob Taylor (left) first discovered part of the footprint, but it wasn't fully exposed at the time.  Marie Woods (right) found it five months later.

Hudson and Lomax also worked with geologist Dr. Mike Romano, a faculty emeritus at the University of Sheffield. Romano has collected and studied hundreds of dinosaur tracks along the Yorkshire coast over the last two decades. About 25 different types of dinosaur footprints have been identified in the area.

“The east coast of Yorkshire is known as the Dinosaur Coast for very good reasons,” Romano said in a statement.

“Although these different species do not necessarily represent the same number of different dinosaurs, they do indicate a diverse ecosystem of animals, including both carnivores and herbivores, that roamed the Jurassic coastal plain and (river) complex around 160 to 175 million years ago . The footprints also allow us to interpret their behavior. So we have records of walking, running, and swimming dinosaurs.”

Once work on the fossilized footprint is complete, it will go on public display at the Scarborough Museum and Galleries’ Rotunda Museum, among others.

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