Did you know that Skye is internationally recognised for its fossils? Not too long ago, a sharp-eyed Trotternish crofter noticed something interesting down on the shore which turned out to be a set of dinosaur footprints. Since then there have been other amazing discoveries, including the fossilised bones of an ancient turtle and a dolphin-like creature, previous unknown to science. In 2015, paleontologists were lucky enough to spot the tracks of massive Sauropods near Duntulm Castle. These discoveries are really important because there are actually very few traces of dinosaurs found in Scotland at all.
Most fossils found on Skye date from the Jurassic period, between 201 and 145 million years ago. At this time, much of the island was under water: a shallow, soupy, tropical lagoon that was the home to all sorts of reptiles, shellfish, corals. Skye’s geology today shows us a near complete chronology of this period in its sedimentary rocks. There just aren’t that many places around the world that have fossils that date from the middle part of the Jurrasic, which is why the island so special to paleontologists.
Dinosaur bones are rare here but you are likely to come across the shells of sea creatures such as ammonites. We have some lovely examples a short walk away on the Ardnish Peninsular. Martin and I have also found ammonites on the shore down near Torrin. Check out our local beach for something charmingly called ‘devil’s toenails‘ these are actually a kind of ancient shellfish, a bit like an oyster. There are lots of these to be found lying on the shore where the sea has eroded them from the rocks.
Fossil hunting and collecting is great fun; but, of course, it should always be carried out responsibly. Since Skye became famous in the 1980s for its dinosaur fossils there have been a few incidents of people getting carried away and using some pretty brutal methods to extract fossils from the rocks. If you enjoy seeing fossils; the best thing to do is to leave them for other people to enjoy too. The Scottish Fossil Code gives guidelines as to what is permissible. Essentially: picking up loose fossils found on a beach is okay, smashing them out of a cliff with a big sledgehammer is not!
If you find something embedded in a rock that looks particularly impressive, it may be worth contacting the experts. Don’t attempt to remove it yourself (I’m speaking as an ex-conservator, here!). Take a picture and send it to Dugald Ross; he knows a huge amount about the fossils on Skye and works with Scottish Natural Heritage looking after the island’s important sites. You can contact him at this email address: email@example.com (oh, and don’t forget to give an accurate description of where you found it).
How to find dinosaur footprints on Skye:
It’s worth doing some, or all, of the short walk near the village of Staffin. The photo of the print below was taken close to the slipway at An Corran – they’re tricky to spot, though! Go at low tide, and enjoy the sandy beach as well.