Scientists in the United Kingdom say they have identified rare dinosaur footprints aged over 200 million years on a beach in Wales. According to the researchers, the prehistoric impressions indicate that “large, long-necked” dinosaurs from the late Triassic period once roamed the area.
The footprints were discovered by a beachgoer near the shoreline of Penarth in South Wales in 2020 and reported to London’s Natural History Museum. The tracks sprawl over a 164-foot-long area, each measuring about 1.6 feet. Paul Barrett, a paleontologist at the museum’s Earth Sciences department, led a study of the tracks with scientists from the UK and France; it was published in the journal Geological Magazine on December 29.
First suspected to be mere sedimentary structures formed by geological processes, the scientists concluded that the tracks appear to be “remains of a trample ground” of “many dinosaurs” that inhabited Wales between 237 and 201 million years ago, as per a statement by the Natural History Museum.
“There are hints of trackways being made by individual animals, but because there are so many prints of slightly different sizes, we believe there is more than one trackmaker involved,” Barrett said, as quoted in the museum’s release. “These types of tracks are not particularly common worldwide, so we believe this is an interesting addition to our knowledge of Triassic life in the UK.”
Though they could not link the footprints to an exact species, Barrett and his team said that the large size and shape of the imprints suggest that they could belong to a large sauropodomorph dinosaur. It’s a long-necked, long-tailed herbivorous, or plant-eating, dinosaur species known to be among the largest that roamed the earth. The study adds that the narrowness of the tracks indicates they were probably made by a biped.
“We think the tracks are an example of Eosauropus, which is not the name of a particular dinosaur species but for shape of a type of track thought to have been made by a very early sauropod or a prosauropod,” Barrett said. “We know these kinds of dinosaurs were living in Britain at the time, as bones of the sauropod Camelotia have been found in Somerset in rocks dated to the same age.” (Camelotia is a Triassic dinosaur named after King Arthur’s Camelot castle, which might be fictional.)
Despite the magnitude of the discovery, the researchers recommend not to extract the fossils from the beach, saying it’s safer to leave them in the ground for the time being. “Without a wider conservation plan in place, digging out the fossils may cause irreparable damage to them,” they explained.
Still, you wonder: How could these footprints survive so many ice ages and volcanic eruptions over hundreds of millions of years? Well, there’s no better way to explain this than to quote actor Jeff Goldblum’s famous line from the 1993 film Jurassic Park, delivered as scientist Ian Malcolm: “Life finds a way.”