Squatting Dinosaur Left Behind a Huge Footprint in England

An archaeologist accidentally came across the fossil that was preserved for 166 million years

Illustration of one dinosaur standing and another laying down on a coastline
An artist's representation of the dinosaur that left the footprint James McKay / University of Manchester

Archaeologist Marie Woods was wandering along the coast in England in search of shellfish to make for dinner when she stumbled upon a massive dinosaur footprint.

Measuring more than 3 feet long, the three-toed track is the largest ever discovered in Yorkshire, a county in northern England. It likely belonged to a giant, meat-eating dinosaur that crouched down and pressed its feet deeply into the mud around 166 million years ago, according to a new paper published this week in the journal Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society.

When Woods discovered the record-setting print in April 2021, she was so shocked she “had to do a double take,” she says in a statement from the University of Manchester. She’d been walking along the shore in Burniston Bay, which is situated a few miles north of the town of Scarborough. This area is part of the so-called “Dinosaur Coast” in eastern Yorkshire, where a wide variety of dinosaurs roamed between 160 and 175 million years ago.

“I have seen a few smaller prints when out with friends, but nothing like this,” Woods, who co-authored the paper, says in the statement. “I can no longer say that ‘archaeologists don’t do dinosaurs.’”

Woods shared the find with her friend Dean Lomax, a paleontologist at the University of Manchester and co-author on the new paper, who initially thought she was joking, reports CNN’s Ashley Strickland. However, once Lomax realized Woods was serious, the two got to work figuring out what to do with the enormous Jurassic Period remnant.

Piece of rock with footprint and measuring instrument
Archaeologist Marie Woods found the footprint on the Dinosaur Coast in eastern Yorkshire, England, where dinosaurs roamed between 160 and 175 million years ago. Marie Woods / University of Manchester

They feared the tide might erode the footprint or that it would become damaged in a landslide, so they contacted fossil collectors to help carefully remove the specimen and transport it to the Scarborough Museum and Galleries. During this recovery mission, the group also realized that local fossil hunter Rob Taylor—a co-author on the new paper—had spotted the print five months earlier, when it was not yet fully exposed.

After studying the footprint—including its shape, the claw marks, the number of toes and the impressions left by the dinosaur’s skin—researchers determined that it likely belonged to a large, carnivorous Megalosaurus-like creature that measured 8.2 to 9.8 feet tall at the hips. Researchers also noted the impression left by the dinosaur’s metapodium, or the rear section of its foot.

“The presence of this might suggest our large meat-eater was squatting down in the mud, before standing up and walking away,” Lomax tells CNN. “It’s fun to think this dinosaur might well have been strolling along a muddy coastal plain one lazy Sunday afternoon in the Jurassic.”

Megalosaurus became the first named dinosaur in the 1820s after scientists discovered the fossilized bones of a large, mysterious creature in a quarry in Oxfordshire, England, according to the Oxford Museum of Natural History. The name means “great lizard.”

People have been finding dinosaur tracks along Yorkshire’s Dinosaur Coast since at least 1907. All told, amateur and professional fossil hunters alike have encountered roughly 25 different types of dinosaur footprints in thousands of finds, per the statement.

Soon, dinosaur fans could get a chance to see the 166-million-year-old footprint for themselves at the Scarborough Museum and Galleries’ Rotunda Museum, where it’s slated to go on view to the public after conservation is completed.

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