Northern Ireland news

Fossils found in Co Antrim confirmed by experts to be Ireland's only ever dinosaur bones

An artist’s impression of a Sarcosaurus painted by Julian Friers, wildlife artist. Sarcocarus was a small bipedal carnivore, a distant ancestor of Tyrannosaurus rex. Almost certainly it would have had feathers, probably for camouflage or display, but it was not a bird and could not fly.
Marie Louise McConville

The only dinosaur bones ever discovered in Ireland have been confirmed for the first time by a team of experts.

Two fossil bones believed to be 200-million years old were found in Islandmagee, Co Antrim.

Discovered by the late, Roger Byrne, the school teacher and fossil collector donated them and other fossil finds to the Ulster Museum.

Analysis carried out by a team of experts from Queen's University, Belfast and the University of Portsmouth, led by Dr Mike Simms, a curator and palaeontologist at National Museums NI, has now confirmed them to be early Jurassic.

The Ulster Museum has announced plans to put them on display when it reopens after the latest rounds of restrictions are lifted.

Originally, it was assumed the fossils were from the same animal, but the team of experts were surprised to discover that they were from two completely different dinosaurs.

Employing the latest available technology, the team identified the type of dinosaur from which each came.

One is part of a femur (upper leg bone) of a four-legged plant-eater called Scelidosaurus.

The other is part of the tibia (lower leg bone) of a two-legged meat-eater similar to Sarcosaurus.

Ballymoney man Robert Smyth, a researcher from the University of Portsmouth team and Professor David Martill, used high-resolution 3D digital models of the fossils, produced by Dr Patrick Collins of Queen's University Belfast, in their analysis of the bone fragments.

Robert Smyth said: "Analysing the shape and internal structure of the bones, we realised that they belonged to two very different animals.

"One is very dense and robust, typical of an armoured plant-eater," he said.

"The other is slender, with thin bone walls and characteristics found only in fast-moving two-legged predatory dinosaurs called theropods.

"Despite being fragmentary, these fossils provide valuable insight on a very important period in dinosaur evolution, about 200 million years ago. It's at this time that dinosaurs really start to dominate the world's terrestrial ecosystems".

Professor Martill added: "Scelidosaurus keeps on turning up in marine strata, and I am beginning to think that it may have been a coastal animal, perhaps even eating seaweed like marine iguanas do today.”

Dr Mike Simms described the find as a "a hugely significant discovery".

"The great rarity of such fossils here is because most of Ireland's rocks are the wrong age for dinosaurs, either too old or too young, making it nearly impossible to confirm dinosaurs existed on these shores," he said.

"The two dinosaur fossils that Roger Byrne found were perhaps swept out to sea, alive or dead, sinking to the Jurassic seabed where they were buried and fossilised".

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