Palaeontology

Isle of Wight: One of the richest sources of dinosaur fossils

Artist Richard Bizley’s view of life on the Isle of Wight during the early Cretaceous period. Photo: University of Portsmouth/PA Wire
Fires and floods which raged across the Isle of Wight 130 million years ago made the island the richest source of “pick ’n’ mix” dinosaur remains of that age anywhere in the world, according to a new study.
It revealed that the island’s once-violent weather explains why thousands of tiny dinosaur teeth and bones lie buried alongside the huge bones of their gigantic relatives.
The research was carried out by University of Portsmouth palaeontologist Steve Sweetman and Allan Insole, from the University of Bristol.
It is published in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.
Dr Sweetman said: “When a fire was rapidly followed by an intense flood, a snapshot of life on the Isle of Wight 130 million years ago was taken and preserved for us to see today, making the Isle of Wight one of the most important dinosaur sites in the world.
“Apart from the sheer diversity of dinosaurs found on the island, we also have the remains of the animals and plants that lived with them.
“During the early Cretaceous when dinosaurs roamed, the climate was much warmer than today.
“This was partly to do with the geographical position of the Isle of Wight at the time – the latitude was roughly where Gibraltar is now – but also reflects the extreme greenhouse conditions of that era.”
The academics said vegetation became parched during summer months where temperatures rose – increasing the likelihood of lightning strikes causing fires.
Dr Sweetman said: “Occasionally very heavy rain would follow electrical storms and wild fires, causing flash floods.
“These swept up all loose objects in their path, swallowed complete dinosaur skeletons and eroded floodplain sediments. The more debris and sediment the water collected, the thicker and thicker it became until eventually it was like mixed concrete.”
This chaotic mixture, in which most of the skeletons became jumbled up, was then deposited in hollows to form what are now known as the island’s plant debris beds.
The rotting plants in these beds removed oxygen, providing ideal conditions for the preservation of bones.
“On the Isle of Wight you get a complete muddle of the smallest fossils blended with the biggest, nothing quite like it has been seen anywhere else in the world,” said Dr Sweetman.
“The plant debris beds and the mixture of fossils they contain are unique to the island.”
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