A scientist stumbled over a 166-million-year-old dinosaur bone while running along the shore to meet her research team.
Dr Elsa Panciroli made the “serendipitous discovery” on the Isle of Eigg. It is the first time such a fossil has been discovered in Scotland outside of Skye.
The limb bone is thought to belong to a stegosaurian dinosaur, such as Stegosaurus.
Dr Panciroli, research affiliate at National Museums Scotland, said: “I was running along the shore on my way back to meet the rest of the team and I ran right over it.
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“It wasn’t clear exactly what kind of animal it belonged to at the time, but there was no doubt it was a dinosaur bone.”
She said that in 200 years of searching the area “no-one has found a dinosaur before, so this is quite special”.
She added: “This is a hugely significant find. Globally, Middle Jurassic fossils are rare and until now the only dinosaur fossils found in Scotland were on the Isle of Skye.
“This bone is 166 million years old and provides us with evidence that stegosaurs were living in Scotland at this time.”
Just because they're Eigg-stinct, doesn't mean dinosaurs don't get us all very Eigg-cited here on Eigg. Eigg-spert @gsciencelady met our favourite and latterly super secret bone idle pal in 2019BC Before Covid. Who will she find next time she's here? https://t.co/M3Z9nfJiv2
— Isle of Eigg (@isleofeigg) August 26, 2020
The bone dates to the Middle Jurassic period and is just over half a metre long. It was found in a boulder on the foreshore. Though it had been badly damaged by the waves, enough remained for a team of palaeontologists to study.
The bone was extracted and taken to a laboratory to be removed from the rock, where it was found to be part of the hind limb of a stegosaur. It dates to the same period as similar fossils found on Skye.
The Isle of Eigg is already known for its Jurassic fossils, particularly marine reptiles and fish, first discovered by 19th Century geologist Hugh Miller.
Dr Steve Brusatte, of the University of Edinburgh, co-authored a paper on the find.
He said: “Elsa’s discovery of this bone is really remarkable. Nobody, not even Hugh Miller himself, had found dinosaur bones on Eigg before.
“This fossil is additional evidence that plate-backed stegosaurs used to roam Scotland, which corroborates footprints from the Isle of Skye that we identified as being made by a stegosaur.”
The bone is now in the collections of National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh.
The fieldwork on the Isle of Eigg was funded by the National Geographic Society with the permission of The Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust. The full paper is published in Earth And Environmental Transactions Of The Royal Society Of Edinburgh.
Reader Q&A: Could we bring back an extinct species using DNA, Jurassic Park style?
Asked by: Alec Maddocks, via email
To ‘de-extinct’ an animal, you need a source of the animal’s DNA, which provides the blueprint for making it. DNA is sometimes preserved in fossils, and the oldest DNA extracted to date comes from a 700,000-year-old horse bone found in the Canadian permafrost.
However, DNA breaks down over time, and scientists think that it’s unlikely to be found in any specimen older than a million years. Dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago. No dinosaur DNA, no dinosaurs. Sorry!
Some other species, however, are fair game. In 2003, scientists briefly de-extincted a type of goat, called the bucardo. DNA-laden cells, taken from the last living female before she died, were used to create a clone, and the resulting embryo was transplanted into the womb of a living domestic goat.
The bucardo was delivered by Caesarean section, but died shortly after birth due to lung defects. The bucardo was therefore the first animal to be de-extincted, but also the first animal to go extinct twice!
Other de-extinction projects include attempts to revive an Australian amphibian called the gastric-brooding frog, a North American bird called the passenger pigeon and the one and only woolly mammoth. These use a combination of cloning, gene-editing and stem cell methods, but don’t hold your breath waiting for the pitter-patter of tiny feet. De-extinction is still very much in its infancy, so for now, take solace in the fact that dinosaurs never really left us. Birds are their direct descendants, and they’re everywhere.
- What is DNA?
- What if the dinosaurs had survived?
- Has an animal ever evolved itself into extinction?
- Why were birds the only dinosaurs to survive the mass extinction?