It's an Irish discovery 200million years in the making – for the first time ever, dinosaur bones have been identified on the island.Fossil bones from
It’s an Irish discovery 200million years in the making – for the first time ever, dinosaur bones have been identified on the island.
Fossil bones from a four-legged plant-eating scelidosaurus and a deadly two-legged carnivore sarcosaurus were found in Islandmagee, on the coast of County Antrim.
The remains were originally discovered by school teacher and fossil collector Roger Byrne between 1980 and 2000. He donated them to the Ulster Museum.
They have now been confirmed as belonging to dinosaurs for the first time by experts from the University of Portsmouth and Queen’s University Belfast.
Ulster Museum is expected to put the fossils on display when it reopens after coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
The fossil bones are from a four-legged plant-eating scelidosaurus (pictured, artist’s rendering) and a deadly two-legged carnivore sarcosaurus and were found in Antrim
Remains discovered by the late Roger Byrne have sat with the Ulster Museum for decades before finally being analysed by a team of researchers and revealed as belonging to two different species of dinosaur – the first confirmed to be from Ireland
A team of experts used high-resolution 3D digital models of the fossils to analyse bone fragments and identify the type of dinosaur each came from.
‘Several specimens from Northern Ireland have been suspected, or suggested, as dinosaur bones but just two can be definitely assigned to this group on the basis of their bone histology, surface texture and morphology,’ the team explained.
The remains discovered by Byrne sat unverified in a museum for decades, until technology reached a point where they could properly be verified.
Originally it was assumed the fossils were from the same animal, but the team were surprised to discover that they were from two completely different dinosaurs.
Robert Smyth, a researcher on this study, said the shape and internal structure of the bones gave away the fact they belonged to two very different animals.
The study, employing the latest available technology including 3D imaging and modelling, identified the type of dinosaur from which each came.
Fossil bones from a four-legged plant-eating scelidosaurus and a deadly two-legged carnivore sarcosaurus were found in Islandmagee, on the coast of County Antrim
Scelidosaurus femur found by the late fossil hunter Robert Byrne – one of the first dinosaurs to be confirmed as coming from Ireland
‘One is very dense and robust, typical of an armoured plant-eater. The other is slender, with thin bone walls and characteristics found only in fast-moving two-legged predatory dinosaurs called theropods,’ said Smyth.
‘Despite being fragmentary, these fossils provide valuable insight on a very important period in dinosaur evolution, about 200 million years ago. It’s at this time that dinosaurs really start to dominate the world’s terrestrial ecosystems.’
Professor David Martill, a researcher involved in the study, said the two species confirmed to come from Ireland are like chalk and cheese.
He said the sarcosaurus was a spectacular animal with a large head and ran around on two muscular, powerful legs.
Then there is the scelidosaurus, which was a powerful animal adorned with spikes. It was a herbivore but would put up a good fight if a meat eater gave it any trouble.
‘One of them is, if you take your everyday view of a meat-eating dinosaur, it had a mouth full of razor-sharp serrated teeth,’ said Martill.
Research leader Dr Mike Simms (pictured) said: ‘The two dinosaur fossils that Roger Byrne found were perhaps swept out to sea, alive or dead, sinking to the Jurassic seabed where they were buried and fossilised’
Yesterday, the bones were confirmed as being from the dinosaurs for the first time, and Ulster Museum will put them on display when it reopens after restrictions are lifted. Pictured: Artist’s rendering of a sarcosaurus
‘The scelidosaurus was running around on all fours with its back legs higher than its head. It would have been adorned with big spikes capped with the sort of sheath that a claw is made of.
‘If it came and kneed you it would rip you apart. Although it was a herbivorous animal, it wasn’t a defenceless animal.’
Research lead Dr Mike Simms said: ‘The two dinosaur fossils that Roger Byrne found were perhaps swept out to sea, alive or dead, sinking to the Jurassic seabed where they were buried and fossilised.’
‘This is a hugely significant discovery,’ Simms said of the analysis.
‘The great rarity of such fossils here is because most of Ireland’s rocks are the wrong age for dinosaurs, either too old or too young, making it nearly impossible to confirm dinosaurs existed on these shores,’ he added.
The findings, published in the Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, is part of a larger project to document Jurassic rocks in Northern Ireland.
A number of other fossils still sit within the Ulster museum collection including the ones at the top that have been there over a century – but only the fossils found by Byrne have been confirmed as belonging to a dinosaur