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Fossil hunters make astonishing find that offers 'fleeting glimpse of a time long gone'

Chaffin Mitchell

A monstrous dinosaur footprint believed to be 130 million years old was found preserved in clay after Storm Ciara shifted the sands above it with its powerful winds and waves.

The prehistoric three-toed track was discovered by fossil hunters on Sandown Bay on the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom.

"All this weather is revealing traces of vanished worlds along our coastline," Wight Coast Fossils said in a Facebook post.

"Our track maker was crossing this environment 130 million years ago, heading southwest in what is now Sandown Bay, leaving these huge tracks in the boggy soil," the Wight Coast Fossils Facebook post said. (Facebook / Wight Coast Fossils)

Whether the footprints that exist on the foreshore are visible depends on the sand levels at that location, which can change with different types of weather. This track size of the footprint that emerged in the wake of Storm Kiara is almost 20 inches, or approximately 50 cm, from the central toe to the heel.

"Sand levels on the beach fluctuate in response to storm events, longshore drift currents and tidal movements which can either bury the footprints beneath meters of sand or deposit the sand elsewhere revealing bedrock and dinosaur footprints, which is how we spotted this track," Wight Coast Fossils Island fossil hunter Theo Vickers said in an interview with AccuWeather.

In terms of time, Vickers said footprints are probably visible a handful of times a year, with a greater chance during the rougher winter months.

"The weather is the key driving force behind the erosion that allows us to discover fossils. Rain, wind, a wave action are fantastic at wearing away exposures of rock and revealing fossils in the process," Vickers said.

"Along the coastline of the Isle of Wight, and really anywhere, the days following storms are the best for fossil hunting due to increased erosion and movement of sand. During the storm itself can be extremely dangerous," Vickers said.

Although the weather can help unearth archaeological treasures, it is also responsible for causing them to vanish quickly.

"Clay footprints such as these can be relatively common in our Wessex Formation exposures but do not hold up to the forces of erosion for long," Vickers said.

A drawing overlay to highlight the footprint made by a dinosaur 130 million years ago. It was found on the foreshore at Yaverland on Sandown Bay in an area of brightly colored clays from the Wessex Formation. (Facebook / Wight Coast Fossils)

"Sadly, they will typically disappear in a couple of days or weeks, as the tide wears down the soft clays of the Wessex Formation, an awesome but fleeting glimpse of a time long gone, lying in plain sight on our coastline," Vickers said.

The preservation of clay footprints such as these are extremely fragile therefore attempting to physically remove them to protect them would ultimately destroy them.

"Additionally, if physically removing them was possible, dinosaur footprints and footcasts around the coastline of the Isle of Wight are protected legally and can only be removed with permission," Vickers said.

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The best method with these tracks, Vickers said, is to photograph them and record their position and let nature take its course.

Experts say this occurrence isn't as rare as one might think. As one disappears, another will likely appear.

"Tracks like these are actually relatively common in the dinosaur-rich Wessex Formation of the Isle of Wight so while others erode away and disappear, it's often the case that elsewhere other dinosaur tracks will be appearing," Vickers said.

The Wessex Formation is a geological formation in Southern England that is a hotbed for fossil discovery.

According to Vickers, the pointed toes of this track may indicate a large theropod, perhaps Neovenator or the Spinosaur Baryonyx, which are giant carnivorous lizards that walked on two legs.

"These are just possible species that we have suggested based on the size of the track and species present in the Wessex Formation," Vickers said.

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