A large number of dinosaur footprints belonging to at least seven different species have been uncovered near the town of Hastings, South-East England. Comprising over 85 different prints, this is the most diverse collection of trace fossils ever discovered in the United Kingdom.
As reported in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, the footprints date from the Lower Cretaceous period and were made between 145 and 100 million years ago. They range in size from 2 to 60 centimeters (0.8 to 23.6 inches). The traces are incredibly varied and show a great deal of detail. Claws, scales, and the finer elements of the skin are all extremely clear.
There's also great variety in the type of dinosaurs that left these traces. Meat-eating theropods and armored herbivores like Ankylosaurus walked these lands in ancestral times. A species of Stegosaurus also left its mark here, and Brachiosaurus and Brontosaurus might have done so too. Iguanodon footprints were also discovered. The first known Iguanodon was discovered in the area in 1825.
"Whole body fossils of dinosaurs are incredibly rare," first author Anthony Shillito, a graduate researcher at the University of Cambridge, said in a statement. "Usually you only get small pieces, which don't tell you a lot about how that dinosaur may have lived. A collection of footprints like this helps you fill in some of the gaps and infer things about which dinosaurs were living in the same place at the same time."
The footprints were found in the sandstone and mudstone cliffs near Hastings. As the coastline eroded they came to light. In the Cretaceous period, this area was likely close to a water source. The team discovered a number of fossilized plants and invertebrates alongside (and under) the footprints.
"To preserve footprints, you need the right type of environment," co-author Dr Neil Davies explained. "The ground needs to be 'sticky' enough so that the footprint leaves a mark, but not so wet that it gets washed away. You need that balance in order to capture and preserve them."
Shillito’s research focuses on the effects that early animals coming out of the water had on the land, using trace fossils to track changes in the geology. For the dinosaurs, the research team looked at whether they affected the flow of rivers as large animals do today. There’s some evidence from footprints that they might have had an impact but researchers are yet to find a smoking gun.