An artist’s idea of what Scotland’s coast looked like about 170 million years ago (Image: Jon Hoad)

Around 170 million years ago, Scotland was warmer, swampier, and inhabited by dinosaurs. Evidence of life in this time, the Middle Jurassic period, is scant, though, and in Scotland, the only fossils found from the period have been random bones and a footprint or two.

All of these fossils came from one place: the Isle of Skye, on the northwest coast of Scotland. Back in April, a team of paleontologists from University of Edinburgh were on the island, looking for more. They discovered, they report in a new paper, “the biggest dinosaur site yet found in Scotland.”

This site is 49 feet by 82 feet, and in it are preserved numerous fossilized dinosaur footprints. The scientists discovered these footprints when the tide went out and water was left behind in large impressions in the ground. Those impressions were in a zigzag pattern. All of a sudden, the team realized, they’d seen something like this before. These were dinosaur tracks.

Dino footprints (Photo: Steve Brusatte)

The tracks were very large—about 2.3 feet across—or, as one scientist described them to NPR, like “potholes about the size of trash can lids.” The team determined the tracks belonged to a type of sauropod, the dinosaur family that includes the genus Brachiosaurus.

Beyond that, they can’t say much about the species of dinosaur that left these footprints behind. But the footprints do give paleontologists new information about how these dinosaurs behaved. Once it was thought they lived exclusively in swamps; more recently, that view was discarded, and sauropods were imagined to live on land. These footprints add evidence that they also spent time in coastal areas and in lagoons—it’s not clear why, exactly, but it is fun to imagine giant sauropods frolicking on the shore.

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