Known for its breathtaking landscapes, dramatic castle ruins and folkloric culture, the Isle of Skye is one of Scotland’s most famous destinations for nature and history lovers alike. Shaped by Ice Age glaciers and dotted with centuries-old castles, the Hebridean island boasts an historic legacy which is as immemorial as it is fascinating.
However, there are hidden remnants of the island’s yet more ancient past in the form of dinosaur footprints, which has led to the Skye being nicknamed the ‘Dinosaur Isle’. The staggering collection of 170 million-year-old fossils reflect Skye’s past as a formerly subtropical equatorial island that was roamed by mighty carnivorous and herbivorous dinosaurs.
So why are there dinosaur footprints on the Isle of Skye, and where can you find them?
The prints date to the Jurassic Period
Around 335 million years ago, when the earth consisted of a supercontinent known as Pangaea, the land now known as the Isle of Skye was a subtropical equatorial island. Over millions of years, it moved north to its current position, meaning the landscape changed dramatically: where there is now coastline, there may have once been watering holes and lagoons.
The dinosaur footprints were created when dinosaurs walked across a soft surface, such as mud. Over time, their footprints filled with sand or silt which eventually hardened and turned to rock.
The discovery of dinosaur footprints on Skye is particularly exciting since they date back to the Jurassic Period, of which there is little trace around the world. Indeed, an incredible 15% of the world’s mid-Jurassic discoveries have been made on the Isle of Skye, marking the island as an important destination for researchers.
The dinosaurs were both herbivorous and carnivorous
During the Jurassic Age, dinosaurs evolved rapidly into the large and terrifying image that we have of them today. While it was originally thought that most dinosaur footprints found on Skye were attributed to herbivorous dinosaurs, the recent discovery of prints at Brothers’ Point confirmed that the island was also home to carnivorous dinosaurs.
Most footprints on Skye are thought to belong to sauropods, which would have been the largest land creatures on earth at the time at up to 130ft long and 60ft high. However, it is thought that the sauropods that lived on Skye were some 6 feet tall.
Three-toed footprints from carnivorous Theropods have also been discovered, as well as herbivorous Ornithopods.
An Corran beach is the best-known dinosaur print spot in Skye
An Corran beach in Staffin is the most well-known spot to see dinosaur prints on Skye. They are thought to have mainly belonged to Ornithopods, though there are also prints from Megalosaurus, Cetiosaurus and Stegosaurus in the area.
The footprints on the bed of sandstone on the beach are only visible at low tide, and are sometimes covered by sand in the summer. Nearby, the Staffin Ecomuseum, which was established in 1976, contains a significant collection of dinosaur fossils, as well as a dinosaur leg bone and the world’s smallest dinosaur footprint.
Newly-discovered prints on Brothers’ Point are equally fascinating
The scenic Brothers’ Point has long proved a popular attraction for nature-lovers. However, the recent discovery of around 50 dinosaur tracks in 2018, which are thought to have belonged to sauropods and theropods, now attract significant scientific interest.
Duntulm Castle is next to the biggest dinosaur trackway in Scotland
Situated on the Trotternish peninsula, a number of dinosaur prints have been found zigzagging across the sandstone and limestone close to 14th-15th century Duntulm Castle.
Impressively, they make up the biggest dinosaur trackway in Scotland, and are arguably some of the best tracks of their kind in the world. They are thought to have come from a group of sauropods, and much like the prints at Staffin, can only been seen at low tide.