Documenting the Dinosaur Fossils of Hastings

Do you ever wonder about the process of documenting dinosaur fossils? After all, dinosaurs are such a fascinating aspect in the environmental development of our planet. The extinction of dinosaurs is an additional point of interest to the catastrophic destruction that is naturally possible. We categorise the age of dinosaurs in three distinct periods:

  1. Triassic Period (252-201 million years ago)
  2. Jurassic Period (201-145 million years ago)
  3. Cretaceous Period (145-66 million years ago)

And thanks to its varied geology UK boasts a a rich heritage of dinosaur fossils. New technology, like photogrammetry, opens up new possibilities for applying methodologies, including surveying sites known for ancient dinosaur activity. The opportunity of documenting dinosaur fossils was a chance we just could not turn down.

One site in particular, Hastings, remains a popular destination for fossil and dinosaur enthusiasts. The dinosaur prints date from approximately 180 million years ago and were left by Iguanodon-type species. You might ask why Accupixel, a company specializing in marine, heritage and urban surveying, have an interest in fossils?

Simply put, dinosaurs are cool. And we like doing cool things like Documenting Dinosaur Fossils. New technology, like photogrammetry, opens up new possibilities for applying methodologies, including surveying sites known for ancient dinosaur activity.

The Difficulty of Documenting Dinosaur Fossils

However, if you read our previous blog regarding the difficulties of surveying the Hastings site, you know that even new technology faces hiccups, at times. Documenting Dinosaur Fossils in Hastings is not exactly an easy feat; further complicated by the unpredictable and often unforgiving weather of the site. Our first attempt to survey the site via aerial (drone) photogrammetry concluded with the destruction of our drone, but the survey was not a complete loss and the day was recovered with some close range handheld photogrammetry. You win some (tracks) you lose some (drones).

Documenting Dinosaur Fossils
The incoming tide starts to intrude into the survey area and the window of opportunity closes.

But, we could not allow a bit of technical difficulties to end our attempts to document this prehistoric jackpot. So, upon gathering ourselves, our decimated drone, and some new information, we set out for a second try at documenting dinosaur fossils. This time, planning our surveying approach considers the problematic weather of the Hastings site – high winds and rain for weeks on end.

With only a three-hour weather window early one morning, our chance to survey the site made itself apparent. Also in our favour, possibly due to the eclipse on April 8th, April 10th, the day of our survey, saw the lowest tide of the year. This meant that we could include more of the site, often underwater, in our survey as it became visible. However, the target of our previous drone survey, the southwest part of the beach, was now hidden by sand.

The Second Survey

Facing difficult weather conditions and an unforeseen weather window, the opportunity to document more of the dinosaur fossil record of Hastings was motivation enough to move ahead with our ambitions.

During our second survey, one of the fossil hunters located a large cylindrical object which initially we thought was a bomb from previous wars. However, the object turned out to be nothing other than a massive battery and the bomb disposal people declared it safe. But, we did not leave the site empty handed. Instead, we were able to find and document a series of previously unseen dinosaur tracks and tail marks.

So what can we actually learn from this discovery?

Fossil Phil, Philip Hadland, is the local paleontologist and he spoke to us about the importance of Hastings for the prehistoric record:

“The site at Fairlight Cove holds significant importance due to its exposure of layers from the Ashdown Beds, deposited approximately 140 million years ago, featuring dinosaur footprints and tail traces. These traces, mainly from Iguanodontids, provide valuable insights into dinosaur behaviors, including swimming, making it a unique resource for scientists studying dinosaur trace fossils. Given the constant erosion of the site by the sea, documenting it through 3D data is crucial for preserving this invaluable scientific record for current and future research.”

In fact, we can glean a lot of information from the tracks we found, including: identifying species that roamed the area, determining the size and age of the animals, analysing the gait thanks to the tail dragging marks, and estimating possible herd size and movement. A picture speaks a thousand words but a prehistoric footprint illuminates a land before time.

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