During the middle Jurassic the area we today know as the Yorkshire Coast was a very different place, luckily the evidence of what it was like can be found all around us today.
The period of time we are talking about is around 165 million years ago, which may sound a long time, but in the grand scheme of the 4.5 billion year history of the planet it is really quite recent (that entire history is being explored here ). At that time Britain was roughly where North Africa is today, so the climate was much warmer. Large rivers flowed from mountains to the north into a shallow sea to the south.
These rivers were huge, on the same scale as rivers like the Mississippi, they carried huge quantities of sediment with them which today are preserved as characteristic sandstones that are used as building stone in much of the North York Moors National Park . The rivers also formed many classic features in the Jurassic landscape that we now see revealed on the coastline , including school geography favorites, meandering channels and oxbow lakes!
On the banks of these rivers grew a lush vegetation including horsetails, tree ferns, cycads and ginkgo trees, all of which can be found as fossils today on the coast. It was these plant fossils that were among the first fossils to be found and described by scientists starting at least 200 years ago, many fantastic examples can be in seen in museums all across the UK.
It perhaps seems obvious that a lush vegetation would attract things to eat it, and in this case that was very true, and during the Jurassic the predominant land animals were the dinosaurs, so we now know that most of the major groups of dinosaurs from the period were living here at the time, either eating the plants or each other. But how do we know the dinosaurs were here, especially as so few dinosaur bones have ever been found from Yorkshire?
The answer lies in the same thing that people leave behind 1000’s of times a day without thinking about it, footprints. The dinosaurs that roamed the area left behind huge numbers of footprints and some of these became preserved in the sands and muds left behind by the rivers. It is not just the dinosaur traces we find but also crocodiles, fish turtles and pterosaurs all of which help to build up a more complete picture of middle Jurassic Scarborough.
In later blogs we will go into more detail about the footprints (for example do 26 different types of footprint equal 26 different types of animal), and the palaeoenvironments (literally ancient environment) of Yorkshire. For now if you are interested in seeing some dinosaurs and deltas of your own why not join our guided walk on Good Friday, 18 April all the details here.