Dinosaur footprints from 200 million years ago discovered on beach in Wales

Tracks discovered at a beach in Wales are believed to be footprints of a dinosaur from more than 200 million years ago, and scientists said the "extremely rare" tracks come from a time when Pangea was still intact.

The footprints were discovered at the Penarth beach in southern Wales by a beachgoer in 2020, who  notified scientists at the Natural History Museum in London.

At first, scientists thought they were part of the "geological process" of the beach and were skeptical they could be footprints, but further evaluation suggested they were dinosaur tracks from the late Triassic period, just when dinosaurs began to reign supreme on Earth.

The findings were published in the journal Geological Magazine on Wednesday. 

One of the prints discovered on a beach in Wales.

"We believed the impressions we saw at Penarth were consistently spaced to suggest an animal walking," Paul Barrett, anthropology palaeobiologist at the museum and co-author of the study, said in a statement. "These types of tracks are not particularly common worldwide, so we believe this is an interesting addition to our knowledge of Triassic life in the U.K."

The footprints were discovered along a 164-foot long area, and although they were "poorly preserved," the rims of the prints in a consistent, spaced-out length were proof they were prints of a walking animal. 

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A team of French scientists examining the site in 2010 helped confirm the footprints. At the time, photos of the prints had "less weathering" and showed toe marks, proving it was an ancient animal.

Some prints measured up to 1.6 inches long, so there is no clear answer as to what animal it was, but signs point to it coming from a species of sauropods. The herbivorous species had long necks and tails and thick leg and were some of the largest dinosaurs to exist. The brontosaurus is one of the more notable sauropods, though they existed after these footprints would have been made.

"We know early sauropods were living in Britain at the time," said Susannah Maidment, senior researcher of anthropology palaeobiology at the museum and co-author of the study. "We don't know if this species was the trackmaker, but it is another clue which suggests something like it could have made these tracks."

A trail of the tracks scientists believed belong to a dinosaur.

Scientists said it's likely not all of the tracks came from sauropods. From the rocks where the footprints were located, they estimated the tracks are from 201 million-237 million years ago when the present-day United Kingdom was near the equator. 

"There are hints of trackways being made by individual animals, but because there are so many prints of slightly different sizes, we believe there is more than one trackmaker involved," Barrett said. "Our record of Triassic dinosaurs in this country is fairly small, so anything we can find from the period adds to our picture of what was going on at that time."

The tracks won't end up in the museum since the team said trying to extract them could result in permanent damage. Instead, they will remain in place until they are eroded from the tide. 

Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.