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Thursday, 29 August, 2002, 10:16 GMT 11:16 UK
'I hunt dinosaurs'
Dinosaur footprint, thought to be left by a megalosarous
The prints are the biggest found in Scotland
When a woman walking her dog chanced upon a dinosaur footprint, she and her amateur fossil hunter husband turned to palaeontologist Neil Clark. Here he tells of seeking dinosaur remains on the Isle of Skye - the UK's Jurassic Island.

There was a full range of dinosaurs walking around in the Isle of Skye 165 million years ago.

Dr Neil Clark
Neil Clark digs out the prints found on Staffin Bay
I've found the remains of meat-eaters, plant-eaters, just about any type you can think of, ranging from about one metre in height up to about 10 m.

Back then what we now call Scotland would have been attached to North America and Greenland - and oddly enough, few remains have been found in North America, so we have the best examples of North American dinosaurs in Scotland.

It wouldn't have been the rugged landscape of today; it would have been a very flat area, perhaps a bit like southern France, with lagoons dotted about.

The dinosaurs that made the footprints we found would have been strolling about, maybe going for a drink of water at a lake.

Lost world

My first dinosaur find was in the early 1990s, when a large bone was found on the island. It turned out to be the thigh bone of a sauropod, a large plant-eating dinosaur that looked a bit like an elephant.


It's the dream of all palaeontologists to go back in time

Since then, there's been a number of finds on Skye, including another set of footprints. While digging those up, I met with a nasty accident - I fell and smashed my leg up quite badly and had to be flown off the island.

So chasing dinosaurs can be dangerous.

Bob Hoskins as Prof Challenger (front) in The Lost World
Prof Challenger, hero of Arthur Conan Doyle's dinosaur fantasy
I don't see myself as a modern-day Professor Challenger [the adventurer scientist in The Lost World], but it is a challenge.

And it is the dream of all palaeontologists to go back in time and have a look at how these animals lived - except I'd like to do it from the comfort of a capsule to protect me from the environment. I don't fancy being chased by the meat-eating megalosarous that left the tracks we found in Skye.

Much excitement

There are only a handful of sites worldwide where you find Middle Jurassic dinosaur remains, so the footprints we unveiled this week are quite a rare find.

Cathie and Paul Booth with a footprint
Cathie and Paul Booth found the footprints
I've spent the week leading the team making rubber moulds and casts of the prints.

The first few days were mainly digging sand away from the tracks themselves, as the beach has moved in the months since we found them.

We've only uncovered three of the 15 so far - it's probably better to wait until winter comes along so one of Skye's wonderful storms can remove all the sand.

Skye beach where the footprints were found
Skye: Scotland's only place with dinosaur remains
We've had hundreds of people coming down to watch - I didn't realise the Isle of Skye had so many visitors at this time of year.

Everyone we've invited onto the beach seems to be quite impressed. After all, it's quite something to walk in the footsteps of dinosaurs, to see how large the prints are compared to your own feet.


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27 Aug 02 | Scotland
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