The massive sauropod prints could easily be mistaken for tidal pools. Photo by Paige dePolo/University of Edinburgh
April 3 (UPI) -- Several dozen dinosaur footprints left 170 million years ago along the coast of Scotland's Isle of Skye have offered paleontologists a rare glimpse of the Middle Jurassic.
The footprints were left in a shallow, muddy lagoon by sauropods and therapods. The largest prints were left by long-necked sauropods, while the smaller, three-toed prints were left by therapods, ancestors of Tyrannosaurus rex.
Globally, evidence of the Middle Jurassic period is hard to come by. Skye is one of the few places to offer insights into the period spanning 164 to 174 million years ago.
"This site is a useful building block for us to continue fleshing out a picture of what dinosaurs were like on Skye in the Middle Jurassic," lead researcher Paige dePolo told BBC.
The Middle Jurassic was an ascendant period for the dinosaurs, as new species emerged and began to dominate the globe.
"The Middle Jurassic was a pretty important time: It was some time around then that the first birds took to the sky, the first tyrannosaurs were evolving, [and] the first really colossal sauropods were getting their start," Steve Brusatte, researcher at the University of Edinburgh, told National Geographic.
Researchers detailed their discovery of the illuminating footprints -- the second set of sauropod prints to be found on the Isle of Skye -- in the Scottish Journal of Geology.
Scientists battled difficult tidal conditions to identify over 50 prints, including two trackways, as well as isolated prints. The prints suggest the long-necked giants regularly strolled the tidal flats of Scotland.
"This site is a useful building block for us to continue fleshing out a picture of what dinosaurs were like on Skye in the Middle Jurassic," dePolo said in a news release.