Image| The beach before we cleared it. Buried beneath the buffet of seaweed are dinosaur footprints.
So, I have just returned from the Isle of Skye in northwest Scotland, where we spent hours standing on a rocky beach in the cold, windy rain trying to study dinosaur footprints. I have a confession to make: I hate fieldwork. I don’t like the climbing and falling and having to spend ages outdoors, especially in the winter. I am quite sure that I was next to useless to the team. Yet, in spite of the horrid weather, this trip wasn’t half bad. I enjoyed it.
It was a crash course on dinosaurs and ichnology. People think that as a palaeontologist I work mostly with dinosaurs. In reality, I know very little about them. They simply don’t turn me on. I am more interested in mammals; although, at the moment, I am working on Jurassic fish (a story for another time). Ichnology is the branch of palaeontology that studies traces of organisms. So rather than looking at actual skeletal remains or anatomical imprints, the focus is on things like burrows, coprolites (fossilised poo; and yes, there are scientists who dedicate their time to studying this) and in this instance, footprints. From a dinosaur’s footprints, you can tell what sort of creature it was, its size, its manner of walking and whether or not it lived in a herd like elephants or was solitary like a tiger.
The footprints are fossilised on rock outcrops next to the sea. We had to clear tons of seaweed to actually see the tracks and work quickly to avoid being covered and drowned by incoming tide. I am still trying to get that fishy seaweed smell out of my life. Working in variable weather, we saw more than enough rainbows for a lifetime, and for the first time, I saw the end of one. Sorry, there was no pot of gold.
Anyhow, enjoy this picture of beautiful Skye!