Scientists Have Discovered A ‘Treasure Trove’ Of 145-Million-Year-Old Dinosaur Footprints In East Sussex

Scientists at the University of Cambridge have discovered 85 sets of dinosaur footprints around Hastings in East Sussex, England, that date back to 145 million years ago.

A human hand is placed against a dinosaur fossil.
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Scientists at the University of Cambridge have discovered 85 sets of dinosaur footprints around Hastings in East Sussex, England, that date back to 145 million years ago.

Scientists in East Sussex, in England, have discovered what they have called a “treasure trove” of dinosaur footprints. The researchers are elated in discovering 85 sets of these prints — which are estimated to have been created by seven different types of dinosaurs — that date back 145 million years.

As Phys.org reports, these dinosaur footprints are exceedingly well-preserved and, to date, are amongst the most striking collections of dinosaur footprints which span back to the Cretaceous Period. The many footprints were originally discovered between 2014 and 2018 by scientists from the University of Cambridge — and what really astonished the scientists who found them was how very detailed these prints were. The thin veiling of the dinosaur claws, skin, and scales is still easily visible in the eroded cliff area where the tracks were spotted.

The dinosaur footprints that were found around Hastings were also quite varied when it comes to size. These footprints were found to range from just two centimeters all the way to 60 centimeters across. In terms of the different species of dinosaurs that would have made these prints, scientists have found footprints made by an Iguanodon and an Ankylosaurus, and it is also believed that a Brontosaurus and a Diplodocus left their marks here, too.

The area of Hastings in East Sussex has produced a treasure trove of dinosaurs fossils over the years, with the very first Iguanodon fossil spotted here in 1825. Fossilized brain tissue of a dinosaur was also recovered here in 2016, which is the first recorded case of such a discovery — anywhere. And while dinosaur footprints may seem far less glamorous than brain tissue, they are nevertheless very important, and can help scientists to learn a great deal about the lives of these magnificent creatures.

Anthony Shillito, a Ph.D. student at Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences — and also the lead author of the new study on the footprints found in East Sussex — explained that finding whole body fossils of dinosaurs is something that is a very unusual occurrence.

“Whole body fossils of dinosaurs are incredibly rare. 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. As well as the large abundance and diversity of these prints, we also see absolutely incredible detail. You can clearly see the texture of the skin and scales, as well as four-toed claw marks, which are extremely rare.

During the Cretaceous Period, when these footprints would have been made, scientists note that the area would almost certainly have been very close to water. This would have been key to preserving these sets of footprints, according to Dr. Neil Davies, the second author of the new study.

“To preserve footprints, you need the right type of environment. 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.”

The new study has been published in Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.