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Walking with dinosaurs: Best-preserved footprints unearthed in UK

Well-preserved: An ankylosaur footprint, complete with skin and claw impressions

THE largest and best preserved set of dinosaur footprints from the Cretaceous Period have been discovered in the UK, according to researchers.

More than 85 footprints made up of at least seven different species and including fine detail of skin and scales have been uncovered in East Sussex, scientists announced today.

Step back in time: A large iguanodon footprint, with mud squeezing up between the toes, that was found in Hastings

University of Cambridge researchers uncovered what they claim is the most diverse and detailed collection from the Cretaceous Period, 100million years ago.

Cretaceous is a geologic period that spans 79million 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.

Detailed: A close up of skin impressions from one of the footprints

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 the ‘beast from the east’ at the end of last winter, led to sandstone and mudstone cliffs collapsing.

The footprints date between 100-145million years ago and include prints from an iguanodon — a 2.7-metre-high herbivore — and an ankylosaurus, another herbivore which was armoured and grew to a length of six to eight metres.

Meat-eater: A small theropod footprint PICTURES: SWNS

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 come to light. Earlier findings are far less detailed than those described in the current research.

The university says the area around Hastings is one of the richest in the UK for dinosaur fossils.

These include the first known iguanodon, unearthed in 1825, and the first confirmed example of fossilised dinosaur brain tissue identified in 2016.

Anthony Shillito, a PhD student in the university’s department of earth sciences, said: ‘Whole body fossils of dinosaurs are incredibly rare.

Walking with…: Researchers say the footprints include those of an iguanodon PICTURE: REX

‘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 Mr 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.’

Hidden history: The cliffs near Hastings PICTURES: SWNS

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 cliffs of East Sussex.

The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.