Giant meat-eating dinosaur footprint is largest found in Yorkshire

The biggest of its kind to ever be discovered in Yorkshire is a nearly meter-long footprint left by a massive, meat-eating theropod dinosaur. Remarkably, the strange footprint seems to have been made at the same time the dinosaur was resting or hunching over, some 166 million years ago.

Many dinosaur footprints, as well as other extraordinary fossils, have been discovered along the Yorkshire shore. People travel from all over to this well-known site, including expert paleontologists and fossil enthusiasts, to see what they may uncover. Yet, it is not every day that a footprint reaching 80 centimeters in length is found.

Local archaeologist Marie Woods discovered this record-breaking print in April 2021. She had ventured out down the coast and discovered this incredible fossil just by accident. In her elation and shock, Marie contacted regional specialists in fossils, but none were familiar with the trail she was describing. After that, she got in touch with Dr. Dean Lomax, a paleontologist connected to The University of Manchester and the creator of "Dinosaurs of the British Isles."

Marie, who is currently one of the study's co-authors, stated, "I had to take a second look since what I was seeing was so unbelievable. When out with friends, I have seen a few smaller prints, but nothing like this. I can no longer claim that dinosaurs are unimportant to archaeologists. After it was discovered, there was a lot of curiosity from the general public, and I was inundated with social media comments from individuals all over the world."

There have only been six other comparable footprints found in the region, with the first being discovered in 1934. This most recent, scientifically significant footprint discovered along the Yorkshire Coast is one of them. The biggest known tridactyl (three toed) print. John Hudson, the primary author of the current paper documenting the enormous find, made the discovery of the earlier print, which is on display in the Rotunda Museum, Scarborough, in 2006.

John Hudson, the principal researcher and a local geologist, said: "This significant find provides more proof that this region was originally inhabited by meat-eating giants during the Jurassic. The type of footprint and its age imply that it was left by a vicious dinosaur like the Megalosaurus, with a potential hip height of 2.5 to 3 meters." In 1824, Megalosaurus became the first dinosaur to receive an official description.

It became obvious that fast action was needed to collect the significant specimen from the coast after multiple talks and the exchange of photographs, which revealed the specimen's extreme fragility. If left unattended, it would be vulnerable to landslides, increased erosion, and damage from the sea, which might result in its total disappearance.

The crew had to act fast and set up the specimen's collection in a responsible and safe manner. Experienced fossil hunters Mark, Aaron, and Shae Smith of Redcar carefully collected the specimen.

Once the rescue effort got under way, it was discovered that local fossil hunter and co-author of the current research Rob Taylor had actually discovered the trail five months earlier. The breadth and significance of the footprint had not yet been completely appreciated since the track had not yet been fully revealed at the time of the first discovery.

Dr. Lomax, a co-author of the new study, stated, "We are very appreciative to Mark, Aaron, and Shae for saving this significant specimen and making sure that it was preserved for scientific study. Plans are being made to put the specimen on display in order to inspire the next generation of fossil seekers after it has been thoroughly investigated."

The specimen was given to Scarborough Museum and Galleries by Marie and Rob. John Hudson and Dr. Dean Lomax have both now investigated it, and Dr. Mike Romano from the University of Sheffield has contributed more analysis. Over the course of more than 20 years, Dr. Romano has collected and studied hundreds of dinosaur footprints along the Yorkshire Coast. The scientists compared the new species to traces of a similar nature found all across the world, particularly in Europe and North America.

Dr. Romano remarked, "The east coast of Yorkshire is renowned as the Dinosaur Coast for very good reasons. There have been revealed to be thousands of dinosaur footprints. Because of this, this section of shoreline is regarded as one of the greatest in the world for finding dinosaur footprints. While they were originally noted far back in 1907, it wasn't until the 1980s that findings began to be regularly reported (by both amateur and professional geologists), and it has now been determined that there are about 25 different kinds of footprints.

Dr. Romano continued: "The Jurassic coastal plain and fluvial complex were home to a diverse ecosystem of animals, including both carnivores and herbivores, 160–175 million years ago. Although these various types do not necessarily represent the same number of different dinosaur species, they do indicate a diverse ecosystem. We can also decipher their behavior from the prints. As a result, we have evidence of dinosaurs that could run, swim, and walk."

Dr. Lomax continued: "This is a fantastic discovery. In addition to being the biggest theropod footprint yet discovered in Yorkshire, this specimen's angle, form, and claw imprints may all be studied to learn more about the theropod's activities approximately 166 million years ago. In fact, some characteristics of the footprint could even imply that this enormous predator squatted before standing. It's amusing to imagine that this dinosaur may have been taking a leisurely Sunday afternoon stroll over a muddy coastal plain in the Jurassic."

The book "Locked in Time," written by Dr. Lomax, focuses on extraordinary evidence of ancient animal behavior.

After conservation work is finished, the footprint, which is now under the care of Scarborough Museum and Galleries, will hopefully be shown in front of the public among the other fossil footprints from the Rotunda Museum.

The new study is published in the Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society.