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Sauropod dinosaur tracks found in Scottish Highlands

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Scientists have unearthed the largest dinosaur fossil site ever found in Scotland.

The collection of hundreds of dinosaur footprints and handprints is helping scientists learn about the long-necked, massive sauropods that lived 170 million years ago.

 

"What really strikes me is that the tracks are really big, and there are so many of them," said and email from Stephen Brusatte, from the University of Edinburgh's school of geosciences and the lead author of a paper published in the Scottish Journal of Geology.

"Looking at the mad jumble of tracks it looks like a dance floor, like a dinosaur disco."

Scientists found the tracks on the Isle of Skye, in the Scottish Highlands.

Brusatte and his team initially went to the site to look for small fossils after being tipped off by a geologist, who found a crocodile bone in the area.

They collected a bunch of fish and shark teeth, but it wasn't until they were walking back to their vehicles at the end of the day that they noticed the tracks.

The team discovered hundreds of footprints in at least three layers of rock, Brusatte said. The largest track is 70 centimetres in diameter.

The scientists' preliminary study of the tracks has already produced new information about sauropods. The ones living in the area likely were as long as 15 metres and weighed more than 10 tonnes, which is almost double the weight of an African elephant, which is currently the world's largest land animal.

The layers of tracks mean the sauropods were living in this environment for generations.

The dinosaurs likely spent a lot of time in water, in a marine-brackish lagoon environment, according to the scientists who studied the site. The dinosaurs were once believed to be primarily land based.

Tracks are a really important tool for learning about extinct animals. Unlike bones and teeth, which can be transported by water, tracks are stagnant.

"They record real animals interacting with their environment," Brusatte said.

Despite their initial findings, Brusatte said their work is just getting started. He and others will laser scan the fossils and comprehensively map them.

"That should tell us more about how many sauropods were there, how big they were, and how they moved," he said.