London, Apr 3 (PTI) Dozens of giant dinosaur footprints dating back 170 million years have been discovered on a Scottish island, which may shed light on an important period of dinosaur evolution, scientists said today.

The tracks were made in a muddy, shallow lagoon in what is now the north-east coast of the Isle of Skye in Scotland, according to researchers at the University of Edinburgh.

Most of the prints were made by long-necked sauropods – which stood up to two metres tall – and by similarly sized theropods, which were the older cousins of Tyrannosaurus rex.

“This tracksite is the second discovery of sauropod footprints on Skye,” said Paige dePolo from the University of Edinburgh.

“This site is a useful building block for us to continue fleshing out a picture of what dinosaurs were like on Skye in the Middle Jurassic,” said dePolo, who led the study published in the Scottish Journal of Geology.

The find is globally important as it is rare evidence of the Middle Jurassic period, from which few fossil sites have been found around the world.

Researchers measured, photographed and analysed about 50 footprints in a tidal area.

The footprints were difficult to study owing to tidal conditions, the impact of weathering and changes to the landscape.

In spite of this, scientists identified two trackways in addition to many isolated foot prints.

Researchers used drone photographs to make a map of the site. Additional images were collected using a paired set of cameras and tailored software to help model the prints.

Analysis of the clearest prints – including the overall shape of the track outline, the shape and orientation of the toes, and the presence of claws – enabled scientists to ascribe them to sauropods and theropods.

“The more we look on the Isle of Skye, the more dinosaur footprints we find,” said Steve Brusatte from the University of Edinburgh.

“This new site records two different types of dinosaurs – long-necked cousins of Brontosaurus and sharp-toothed cousins of T rex – hanging around a shallow lagoon, back when Scotland was much warmer and dinosaurs were beginning their march to global dominance,” said Brusatte.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.