Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dinosaurs of Scotland

The Highlands
Entering the Cairngorms. Photo by yours truly.

I've got a huge travelin' jones. My wife and I are constantly planning a trip, sometimes before the current one has ended. One of my favorite countries to visit is Scotland, which we drove through for a few days in 2008, looping from Edinburgh up through the highlands around to Loch Lomond, somehow emerging with our marriage intact despite my often fried mental state as I tried to adjust to driving on the "other" side of the road. I really can't wait to get back and backpack across the Cairngorms, visit the Hebrides, and spend some time among the islands of the Atlantic coast.

Scotland has a proud geological tradition, populated by such important figures as the father of modern geology, James Hutton, and Sir Roderick Murchison. And it's a land intimately connected with some of my favorite landscapes here in the states: the highlands were once connected to the Appalachians, both born during the Caledonian orogeny as Pangaea formed. Scotland has a diverse geology, and the mesozoic gets a bit of space, too: the famed Isle of Skye is a slice of the Jurassic.

The Hunterian Museum's website features a summary of dinosaur discoveries on the Isle of Skye. What's been found doesn't amount to much, but it's enough to roughly sketch out a segment of Scotland's Jurassic fauna. The Hunterian's curator of paleontology, Neil Clark, also provided an overview of the subject in a 2007 Deposits Magazine article, available as a free PDF from the University of Glasgow. He talks about the trackway discovered in the 90's which may preserve the footprints of a group of hatchling theropods accompanied by an adult - though speculating about trackways is a notoriously shaky endeavor. He believes that another set represents the smallest dinosaur footprints ever found, made by a tiny hatchling that wouldn't have been much larger than something you'd see in your birdbath.

"Dougie" the cetiosaur, by Neil Clark.

Most prominent is a humerus believed to belong to a member of the cetiosaur family of sauropods. The cetiosaurs are a primitive group named for Cetiosaurus, the first sauropod discovered - so early that it was named by Sir Richard Owen before he'd even coined the word "dinosaur." The great anatomist believed it belonged to a sea creature, and its dinosaurian identity was finally discerned by T.H. Huxley in 1869. Though the Scottish cetiosaur hasn't been assigned to a sauropod taxa, it has been graced with the nickname "Dougie." I'd wager that the namesake is Dugald "Dougie" Ross, curator of the Isle of Skye's Staffin Museum, which has just become a definite must-see next time I'm across the Atlantic.

1 comment:

  1. Does this mean we get to go to Scotland again? I'll start looking for plane tickets!

    ReplyDelete

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