Almost 100 Dinosaur Footprints From Multiple Species Discovered After Raging Storms

Dinosaur footprints, science, dinosaurs, ancient footprints, geology, paleontology
Two large iguanodontian footprints with skin and claw impressions are pictured Neil Davies

Scientists have discovered a vast haul of dinosaur footprints lurking in the cliffs of East Sussex in the U.K. Dating back to the Lower Cretaceous epoch, researchers think the prints were squashed into the ground between 145 and 100 million years ago.

Some 85 footprints point to an array of different dinosaurs that made impressions on the landscape beyond the shape of their feet. Scientists think the massive creatures may even have altered the path of rivers with their heavy tracks. A study of the prints was recently published online in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.

Read more: Incredible 170-million-year-old dinosaur footprints discovered in Scotland

The footprints—which range from less than an inch to more than 23 inches across—belong to dinosaurs including Iguanodon, Ankylosaurus, probable sauropods and theropods.

"As well as the large abundance and diversity of these prints, we also see absolutely incredible detail," University of Cambridge researcher and study author Anthony Shillito said in a statement. "You can clearly see the texture of the skin and scales, as well as four-toed claw marks, which are extremely rare."

Several harsh winters, which saw storms batter cliffs near the town of Hastings, slowly revealed the ancient tracks. Scientists found the large collection of prints between 2014 and 2018, alongside fossilized plants and invertebrates.

The "patchy" distribution of the prints may indicate "gregarious behavior"—or in other words, social living—among the dinosaurs, the authors wrote.

Ancient tracks give scientists a glimpse into the communities of dinosaurs that lived in particular places at particular times.

"You can get some idea about which dinosaurs made them from the shape of the footprints—comparing them with what we know about dinosaur feet from other fossils lets you identify the important similarities," Shillito explained. "When you also look at footprints from other locations you can start to piece together which species were the key players," he added.

The footprints reveal these dinos likely had an impact on their environment, trampling new channels from rivers, just like hippopotamuses do today.

"Given the sheer size of many dinosaurs, it's highly likely that they affected rivers in a similar way, but it's difficult to find a 'smoking gun,' since most footprints would have just washed away," said Shillito. "However, we do see some smaller-scale evidence of their impact; in some of the deeper footprints you can see thickets of plants that were growing. We also found evidence of footprints along the banks of river channels, so it's possible that dinosaurs played a role in creating those channels."

Officials in Utah scolded tourists earlier this year for ripping up slabs of rock peppered with ancient dinosaur prints. Some visitors to Red Fleet State Park were accused of picking up rocks and tossing them into a reservoir.