A chance find in a West Kirby garden has astonished dinosaur experts in the UK.
The perfect impression of a three-toed dinosaur’s foot is believed to be the first of its kind ever found in the north west and has generated excitement amongst palaeontologists.
Graham Eccleson, who studied geology and geochemistry at university, made the discovery in the rocks of a private property in West Kirby, Wirral, in June 2016.
He immediately recognised it as a trace fossil. “My eyes lit up when I saw it,” he says. “I assume the blocks came from a West Kirby, Thurstaton or Caldy quarry some years ago.”
West Kirby had several quarries throughout the Victorian period, many of which may have been the source. It’s highly unlikely the rock came from much further afield, due to the amount of red sandstone present in the town.
Trace fossils are impressions made by an animal in mud which then turn to rock. They are useful because they can reveal the animal’s speed, posture and skin covering.
Wirral is already well-known for producing footprints of prehistoric beasts called Chirotherium but they were not dinosaurs. They were similar to crocodiles and had five toes. Following their extinction around 205 million years ago, the dinosaurs rose to ascendency and eventually dominated the planet.
Gavin Rymill, curator of the Dinosaurs Roaming Wirral Exhibition, explains the significance of the new discovery.
He said: “When the Chirotherium types were dying out, dinosaurs were small and scarce. We knew they must have been lurking here somewhere, but there’s never been any evidence – until now.
“When I saw it, this new fossil absolutely blew me away because it’s so clear. Not only is it the first trace of any dinosaur discovered within 100 miles of the Wirral but it’s one of the oldest – if not the oldest – dinosaur fossil in the UK.”
So what kind of dinosaur made the impression?
“This famous kind of three-toed footprint which you see in Jurassic Park indicates a theropod – very broadly speaking the same group that includes Velociraptor.
“However, the West Kirby dinosaur is at least 150 million years older when things were more primitive. It was quite small. Its footprint is 10cm long so it probably stood no more than 1pm tall. Something like Coelophysis or Eoraptor. It would have had primitive fuzzy feathers, sharp claws and a very nasty bite. If you watch the first ever episode of Walking with Dinosaurs, you’ll totally understand the world we’re talking about, as it explains the two types of reptilian life we had competing in Wirral.”
Will the new dinosaur get a name? Gavin Rymill explains: “Well, it’s never truly possible to say what specific dinosaur made a footprint. The name ‘Grallator’ is used as a collect-all for these type of footprints so it would probably be ascribed to that.
“I’ve nicknamed it “Wirralraptor” to help people understand what we’re dealing with. Truly nothing like this has ever been found here and I’m currently unaware of anything else in Britain.
“It’s incredible that it was just lying there in a garden! I’m so grateful to Graham Eccleson for sharing this and allowing us to reveal it to the public. It’s fantastic that he’s been so generous.”
The new “Wirralraptor” footprint will be on display at Birkenhead Priory until 30th October as part of a dinosaur exhibition and admission is free.