'˜Largest and best preserved' set of dinosaur footprints found in Sussex
Dinosaur footprints in Sussex have been described by scientists as the largest and best preserved set from the Cretaceous period ever found in the UK.
More than 85 footprints made up of at least seven different species and including fine detail of skin and scales have been uncovered by cliffs between Hastings and Fairlight.
The University of Cambridge researchers uncovered what they claim is the most diverse and detailed collection from the Cretaceous Period 100m years ago.
Cretaceous is a geologic period that spans 79m years from the end of the Jurassic Period and ended with the mass extinction of dinosaurs on the planet
Many of the footprints, which range in size from less than 2cm to over 60cm across, are so well-preserved that fine detail of skin, scales and claws can be seen.
Researchers identified these historical findings between 2014 and 2018 following periods of coastal erosion along the cliffs near Hastings.
They said the recent strong storms in the area, including Beast from the East, have led to sandstone’s collapsing and mudstone cliffs.
The footprints date between 145 and 100m years ago and include prints from including Iguanodon – a 2.7m tall dinosaur – and Ankylosaurus, which was around six metres long.
According to the university, over the past 160 years there have been reports of fossilised dinosaur footprints along the Sussex coast.
But no new major discoveries have recently been found and earlier findings were far less detailed than those described in the current research, claims the university.
The university claims the area around Hastings is one of the richest in the UK for dinosaur fossils.
These include the first known Iguanodon in 1825, and the first confirmed example of fossilised dinosaur brain tissue in 2016.
Anthony Shillito, a PhD student in Cambridge’s department of earth sciences, said: “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.”
Dr Neil Davies, who conducted the study alongside Anthony Shillito, said: “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.”
Mr Shillito added: “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.
“You can get some idea about which dinosaurs made them from the shape of the footprints.
“When you also look at footprints from other locations you can start to piece together which species were the key players.”
The university say it is likely that there are many more dinosaur footprints hidden within the eroding sandstone cliffs of East Sussex.
The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).