Date: 
Tuesday, April 1, 2014 - 09:00

A pair of giant footprints newly discovered at the Eden Project in Cornwall are those of a flesh-eating dinosaur dating back 166 million years, scientists confirmed today (April 1, 2014).  

Three-toed prints uncovered deep down in Eden’s Rainforest Biome have been identified as those of a Megalosaurus, a carnivorous reptile native to Southern England during the Middle Jurassic period.

The positive identification was made by experts from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History who are convinced the prints are from a new species of Megalosaurus which may have hopped across the ground rather than run like other theropods such as the Tyrannosaurus rex.

The steamy Biome nestles against the wall of the former Bodelva china clay quarry and the prints were uncovered by a gardener digging into the soil to the clay sub-strata beneath.  

Suspecting they had a sensational discovery on their hands, Eden staff contacted experts at the world-famous Museum, who asked for measurements and photographs of the prints to be sent over and for casts to be taken.

The Museum famously helped identify prints discovered in 1997 by a schoolteacher in an old limestone quarry in Ardley, Oxfordshire, as those of a Megalosaurus (which means ‘Big Lizard’).

After studying the initial evidence, the Museum sent leading palaeontologist Research Fellow Dr David Legg to Cornwall to inspect the newly-found prints. Taking careful measurements, Dr Legg found that they are a very close match to the Ardley trace fossils and confirmed to Eden staff that they have a major historical discovery on their hands.

Dr Legg said: “This is a truly remarkable find. Not only is there no doubt in our minds that the prints are those of a Megalosaurus, but they almost certainly represent a new species altogether.

“With track marks like these you would normally expect to see variation between the right and left prints but these two are very similar, if not identical. This suggests to me that this particular specimen preferred to hop everywhere or maybe even had just one leg.”

“We’ve spent many hours in the last week comparing the Eden Biome prints with those found at Ardley and we are certain that these come from the same type of animal. They are a near perfect match, apart from the single-footed gait.”

“This is the first time we have found evidence of Megalosaurus this far to the west, and we are proposing that the creature be named Megalosaurus cornwallis-prilaeno.”

After leading the dig team within the Biome, Dr Legg added: “In this heat and humidty, a Megalosaurus would be very much at home.”

The Megalosaurus was the first dinosaur to be scientifically described and named, in the early 19th century. The seven metre-long, 1.5 tonne beast shared many characteristics with its even-bigger North American cousin Tyrannosaurus rex – or Tyrant Lizard King.

Dr Jo Elworthy, the Eden Project's Director of Interpretation, said: "These footprints are massive and when our gardener Lucy came to see me about them we both knew they weren't from any normal creature.

“We were so excited when Dr Legg was able to verify the prints as those of a totally new species of Megalosaurus. This really is an unbelievable discovery!"

Today, the Eden Biome team were setting up a cordon around the 74 cm x 57cm prints in the West Africa section to protect them from possible accidental damage by the thousands of visitors who come to the Project every week. They are also checking the surrounding area for more prints or possibly even bones from the Megalosuarus.

The Eden gardener who made the discovery, skilled horticulturist Lucy Wenger, said:  “I was landscaping an area of bare earth in the West Africa section and when I dug down about two feet through the soil to the clay beneath I saw this strange indent.

“The more I scraped away, the more curious I became as a definite foot shape was emerging.  And then just a few feet away I found another.  I called in the wider team and that was when we thought we had something very old and very interesting under our feet.  We are incredibly excited about this.”

To view a film of the incredible discovery,  go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JroN2NYV4Ig