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Dinosaurs of The Isle of Wight - Why The Island Is Special

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The first question asked when people learn of the Isle of Wight's unique contribution to understanding prehistoric remains is 'What makes the Isle of Wight so special?'

Michael Munt, Acting Curator of the Museum of Isle of Wight Geology, simplistically describes why.

The Exposure Of The Fossils

The Island is great for dinosaurs because about 120 million years ago it was an ideal habitat for dinosaurs because the land was criss-crossed by rivers and dotted with ponds.

When they died, their bones became embedded in the mud and sand, which became the rock that we call the Wealden rock, and was subsequently quite deeply buried by later rocks, like chalk. When the Alps formed in Europe between 10 and 3 million years ago, natural folds developed in the rock of northern France and southern England, which brought the Wealden rocks back up to the surface. About 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last glaciation, the global rise in sea level cut into the English Channel and formed the Isle of Wight, and the Wealden rocks became exposed in the cliff by erosion. As the cliffs are eroded back by the sea, more and more dinosaur remains come to light.

This Wealden rock is mainly found on the south-west coast of the Island, and around Yaverland on Sandown Bay. The south-west coast of the Island is regularly battered by strong westerly storms1. These storms erode the soft clay cliffs, exposing thousands of bones of dinosaurs, pterosaurs, crocodiles and other fossils each year. Although it is inevitable that many of these remains are swept into the sea, several local collectors brave the foulest weather to save as many as possible.

The Age of the Fossils

The Wealden rock on the Isle of Wight2 is extremely important as the age of the rock is unique in the world.

The Isle of Wight fossils tell us about life around northern Europe 120 million years ago, during the early Cretaceous. Although Wealden rock also exists in the Weald of Sussex, Kent and Surrey to the east, and to the west in Dorset, the Isle of Wight rock remains unique. This is because the Isle of Wight rock is approximately 120 million years old, while the Weald of the mainland is older, dating from between 144 to 131 million years ago. There are therefore several differences between the dinosaurs of the Island's Wealden and the mainland's Wealden, as many of the Island's species of dinosaurs, especially Hypsilophodon, have not been found on the mainland.

Palaeontologists know very little about the period between the Late Jurassic and Mid Cretaceous, the period which the Isle of Wight dinosaurs belong to. The Island's dinosaurs, however, tell much when compared with younger dinosaurs discovered in Africa and North America, demonstrating that dinosaurs could migrate from Europe to both Africa and America. Three species found on the Isle of Wight have since been found in Africa; Baryonx, Valdosaurus and Titanosaurus. These African dinosaurs are between 5 and 10 million years younger than those found on the Island, and have been described as showing aspects of the possible evolution of dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs Of The Isle Of Wight

1These storms have caused many hundreds of shipwrecks and led to the building of Britain's oldest Lighthouse, the Pepperpot.2The Wealden rock on the Island is divided into 2 sections; the older Wessex formation, and the younger Vectis formation.

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