The only dinosaur bones ever found on the island of Ireland have been formally confirmed for the first time by a team of experts from the University of Portsmouth and Queen’s University of Belfast, led by Dr Mike Simms, curator and paleontologist of the National Museums NI.
The two fossil bones were found by the late Roger Byrne, a teacher and fossil collector, who donated them along with many other fossils to the Ulster Museum. Analysis confirmed that they come from the earliest Jurassic rocks found at Islandmagee, on the east coast of County Antrim.
The Ulster Museum has announced plans to put them on display when it reopens following the lifting of the latest rounds of restrictions.
Dr. Simms, National Museums NI, said, “This is an extremely significant discovery. The great rarity of such fossils here is due to the fact that most Irish rocks are of the wrong age for dinosaurs, too old or too young, making it nearly impossible to confirm the existence of dinosaurs on these shores. The two dinosaur fossils found by Roger Byrne were possibly wiped out at sea, dead or alive, sinking into the Jurassic bottom where they were buried and fossilized.
The article, published on Proceedings of the Association of Geologists, is part of a larger project to document Jurassic rocks in Northern Ireland and draws on many fossils in the Ulster Museum collections.
The fossils were initially thought to have come from the same animal, but the team was surprised to find that they came from two completely different dinosaurs. The study, using the latest technology available, identified the type of dinosaur each came from. One is part of a femur (upper leg bone) of a four-legged plant-eater called Scelidosaurus. The other is part of the tibia (lower leg bone) of a two-legged meat eater similar to Sarcosaurus.
The University of Portsmouth team, Ballymoney-born researcher Robert Smyth, and Professor David Martill, used high-resolution 3D digital models of the fossils, produced by Dr Patrick Collins of Queen’s University Belfast, in their fragment analysis. bone.
Robert Smyth said: “By analyzing the shape and internal structure of the bones, we realized that they belonged to two very different animals. One is very dense and strong, typical of an armored plant eater. The other is slender, with thin bony walls and features found only in fast-moving two-legged predatory dinosaurs called theropods. “
“Despite being fragmented, these fossils provide valuable information on a very important period in the evolution of dinosaurs, some 200 million years ago. It is at this time that the dinosaurs really begin to dominate the terrestrial ecosystems of the world. “
Professor Martill said: “Scelidosaurus continues to appear in the marine layers, and I’m starting to think it may have been a coastal animal, perhaps even eating algae like marine iguanas do today.”
UNIVERSITY OF PORTSMOUTH
Header Image – Dr Mike Simms, of National Museums NI, with the theropod tibia on the left and the Scelidosaurus femur on the right. Image credit: National Museums NI