Dinosaur discovery: Ireland’s first-ever dinosaur fossils CONFIRMED – ‘hugely significant’

Ireland’s first-ever dinosaur bones have been formally confirmed by experts at University of Portsmouth and Queen’s University Belfast. The two fossil bones were first discovered by fossil collector Roger Byrne, and were then donated with the rest of his expansive fossil collection to Ulster Museum.

New analysis has now confirmed they date back to early Jurassic rocks excavated on the east coast of County Antrim.

This is a hugely significant discovery

Dr Mike Simms

The Museum will put them on display when it reopens after coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

Dr Mike Simms, a curator and palaeontologist at National Museums Northern Ireland, who led the study, said: “This is a hugely significant discovery.

“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.

“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.”

The research forms part of a larger project to document Jurassic rocks in Northern Ireland.

The fossils were initially assumed to have originated from the same animal.

However, researchers were shocked to discover they belonged to two entirely different species.

Cutting-edge tech has pinpointed the type of dinosaur each originated from.

One is a section of a femur (upper leg bone) from a Scelidosaurus – a four-legged plant-eater.

The other is a tibia (lower leg bone) belonging to a two-legged meat-eater similar to a Sarcosaurus.

Researchers used high-res three-dimensional digital models of the fossils, produced by Dr Patrick Collins of Queen’s University Belfast, in the new bone fragments analysis.

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University of Portsmouth team, researcher Robert Smyth said: “Analysing the shape and internal structure of the bones, we realised they belonged to two very different animals.

“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.”

“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 Martill added: “Scelidosaurus keeps on turning up in marine strata, and I am beginning to think that it may have been a coastal animal, perhaps even eating seaweed-like marine iguanas do today.”

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