They are the giants of the dinosaur world and now experts say they have identified Britain’s oldest sauropod from a fossil bone discovered in North Yorkshire.
Now held in the collections of the Yorkshire Museum it represents the earliest skeletal record of this type of dinosaur from the UK and adds to existing evidence from Yorkshire dinosaur tracks that this part of the country was once Britain’s very own “Jurassic World,” say researchers at the University of Manchester.
The dinosaur bone from the Middle Jurassic Period at about 176 million years old was earlier found on a beach at Whitby after it fell out of a cliff face. The backbone originates from a group of dinosaurs that includes the largest land animals to have ever walked on earth.
Sauropods - often referred to as brontosaurs - include some of the largest plant-eating dinosaurs to have roamed the earth and were a successful group for nearly 150 million years.
The fossil is said to be an extremely rare find, given the Middle Jurassic rocks of the world are only exposed in a few areas such as China and Argentina where similar-aged dinosaur fossils originate.
Professor Phil Manning and his team from the University of Manchester used X-ray tomography to study the fossil bone, which is now held in the collections at the Yorkshire Museum in York.
It was a splendid surprise to come face-to-face with a fossil vertebra from the Jurassic rocks of Yorkshire that was clearly from a sauropod dinosaur.Professor Phil Manning
Prof Manning said: “Many scientists have worked on the amazing dinosaur tracks from the Middle Jurassic rocks of Yorkshire.
“It was a splendid surprise to come face-to-face with a fossil vertebra from the Jurassic rocks of Yorkshire that was clearly from a sauropod dinosaur.
“This fossil offers the earliest ‘body fossil’ evidence for this important group of dinosaurs in the United Kingdom but it is impossible to define a new species based upon this single bone.”
Until more bones are discovered the team have simply nicknamed Britain’s oldest sauropod dinosaur Alan, after the finder of this prehistoric giant, Alan Gurr.
Sarah King, curator of natural science at the Yorkshire Museum, said: “We have some of the best examples of fossils from the area in our collections and we are delighted to be able to display the vertebra of Britain’s oldest sauropod alongside them for the public to enjoy.”
The vertebra will be on show at the Yorkshire Museum from June 8.
The Yorkshire coast has long been popular with geologists and beachcombers for generations and it is hoped that the discovery with help boost the local tourism industry.
Coun David Jeffels, chairman of North Yorkshire County Council and former Scarborough Council cabinet member for tourism said of the find: “It’s going to be wonderful news for our part of the world.”
The discovery is not the first of significance along the coast. In 2002 the remains of a plesiosaur, a marine reptile also referred to as a sea dragon, was discovered near Filey.
Will Watts, a geologist of Hidden Horizons, which organises fossil hunting trips to allow people to discover more about Yorkshire’s Jurassic Coast earlier said: “The great thing about fossils is that tides mean the shoreline is changing all the time and a member of the public is as likely to find a new, previously unknown species as the expert - although the expert does spend more time systematically looking and has a trained eye.”