Dinosaur tracks are longest in Britain

The longest set of fossilised dinosaur tracks in Britain has been uncovered at the bottom of a limestone quarry in Oxfordshire where they had lain undisturbed for 168 million years.

The longest set of fossilised dinosaur tracks in Britain has been uncovered at the bottom of a limestone quarry in Oxfordshire where they had lain undisturbed for 168 million years.

Running for up to 200 metres over the floor of the quarry, the footprints are among the last remnants of a lost world where dinosaurs roamed the muddy shores of an ancient ocean.

Scientists from Oxford University's Museum of Natural History have completed a detailed survey of the footprints. They were first discovered by a Birmingham schoolteacher three years ago.

Since then, they have found that the tracks, whose positions have been mapped precisely by global positioning satellites, are the longest in Britain and possibly Europe. They rival some of the great "dinosaur freeways" of America, which are believed to have been used during mass movements of the extinct leviathans.

Philip Powell, assistant curator of the museum's geological collection, said that the presence of the trackways was initially kept secret because of the fear that public interest in them would disturb the landfill operations at Ardley Quarry, 13 miles north-east of Oxford.

The site covers a quarter of a square mile of Jurassic limestone formed at a time when Britain was in the tropics and a shallow area of sea and lagoons extended north and west into what is now the Cotswolds.

Mr Powell said two sorts of trackways were present. One was composed of three-toed footprints up to 80cm (31.5in) long and 65cm wide, spaced up to two metres (79in) apart.

Clawmarks seen in some of the footprints, and their shape and size, suggest they belong to a bipedal carnivorous dinosaur called Megalosaurus, which is known to have lived in the area at that time.

The second set of trackways were made by an animal whose front feet created kidney-shaped prints about 40cm long. The rear footprints are semicircular and are about 60cm long and 56cm wide.

Mr Powell said those tracks were probably made by a large, ponderous herbivore called Cetiosaurus, which grew up to 15 metres long. Fossil bones of this "whale lizard" were first found in Oxfordshire limestone some 200 years ago.

Cetiosaurus resembled the more familiar Brontosaurus, with a long neck and tail andpillar-like legs. "This animal walked on all fours, in such a way that the prints produced by the back feet were usually superimposed on the front ones," Mr Powell said.

"The great weight of the animals is indicated by the ridges of mud - now transformed into limestone - that form a rim at the front of the footprints," he said.

The tracks in the Ardley Quarry criss-cross and there are no signs that the animals were moving in any particular direction or that they interacted with each other while moving.

The excavation team in Oxford had taken moulds of the better-preserved footprints at Ardley before they were covered over with landfill waste, which would preserve the trackways better than leaving them fully exposed, Mr Powell said.

"It is difficult economically to stop the operation. Covering them up is a good way of preserving them. It's a shame but it would be too costly to preserve them any other way."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high