A MAJOR dinosaur discovery has been found by palaeontologists on the Isle of Skye – and the bones could belong to an animal as big as a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Expeditions in Scotland have previously uncovered individual bones and fossilised footprints from the Jurassic period, but the Sunday Herald has learned “something bigger has been found”.

The historic discovery is yet to be fully uncovered and experts are still trying to identify the find but the leader of the dig suggested the dinosaur remains may be a similar size to a T-Rex.

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The Sunday Herald has also learned that another significant discovery was also made recently on the Isle of Eigg. Experts now say Scotland has entered a “golden age” of palaeontology and predict many more dinosaur skeletons could be uncovered in the next 10 years.

Leading the dig on Skye is palaeontologist Elsa Panciroli, 35, from Inverness, a PhD student based at the University of Edinburgh and the National Museum of Scotland.

HeraldScotland: Paleontologist Elsa Panciroli

Paleontologist Elsa Panciroli

She said previous dinosaur discoveries in Scotland have amounted to “individual bones” but added: “I can tell you that there is something bigger that has been found and I’m currently heading the team that’s looking into collecting it. I wouldn’t want to say exactly what it is because we’re not sure yet – but it’s definitely bigger.”

The team working on Skye revealed two years ago they had found hundreds of fossilised dinosaur footprints. Panciroli said: “Those are from your massive dinosaurs with longs necks and tails – the big sauropods. Those things were multiple tonnes, the size of double-decker buses. But there are also footprints from things that are much smaller. So, medium-sized things like tyrannosaur-type dinosaurs.”

Palaeontologists carefully control the timing of announcements which can be dictated by funders who pay for costly excavations, but when pressed Panciroli described the discovery on Skye as coming from a “medium-sized dinosaur”.

She said: “I wouldn’t want to say too much but it is a kind of medium-sized dinosaur. Well, it might be a dinosaur – we’re not one hundred per cent sure. It’s going to be good.”

Panciroli is part of a group exploring Scotland’s islands and when asked whether recent discoveries will make them world famous she said “hopefully”.

“We just went to Eigg [and made another discovery] and I’m quite proud to say that I found it,” she added. “I don’t want to say any more but it’s nice to be a Scot finding Scottish fossils. It makes me quite proud.”

When asked what was discovered on Eigg she suggested speaking to expedition leader Dr Steve Brusatte, who is Chancellor's Fellow in Vertebrate Palaeontology at the University of Edinburgh.

He was guarded when asked about Eigg. “We did go to Eigg but we’re not at liberty to say anything about that yet,” he said.

It understood the announcement will eventually be made in National Geographic, which provided funding and has “media rights”.

“We have some funding and some stipulations on our funding which means we can’t make certain announcements,” Brusatte admitted.

He was also reluctant to reveal details of the recent dinosaur discovery on Skye, but said: “What I think we’re starting to find a lot more of now is stuff like dinosaurs and things that lived with dinosaurs. That’s been the focus of a lot of my work on Skye. We’ve been finding things, we’ve been announcing things. We’ve made some big dinosaur discoveries.

“If it is a golden age we’re in the middle of it rather than necessarily on the cusp of it because we’re doing the work now … it’s a very exciting time. There’s a lot more to find but we’re starting to find some cool stuff.”

He added: “I have no doubt that we’ll continue to keep finding things. Over the next decade or so the more we look the more will come out. Whether it’ll be a skeleton of a tyrannosaur, who knows? I would love that.”

Neil Clark, Curator of Palaeontology at Glasgow museum The Hunterian, said: “It will be major if it [the discovery on Skye] is the size of a tyrannosaur. The dinosaurs from the Isle of Skye are extremely important to understanding of number of dinosaur groups, one of which is the tyrannosaur.”

He added: “In terms of the dinosaurs and early evolution of land-dwelling vertebrates we’re certainly in a golden age.”

China is at the forefront of recent dinosaur discoveries with dozens of skeletons uncovered, but one expert suggested Scotland could be equally important to dinosaur-hunting palaeontologists in the coming years.

Nick Fraser who heads up the Department of Natural Sciences at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, said: “We fully expect to find some dinosaurs like that which they are finding in China. Maybe not the same species but the same types of dinosaurs. The stuff we are seeing on Skye is potentially much more three dimensional. Maybe only bones but that will complement the Chinese fossils.

“We would expect to see meat eaters, therapod dinosaurs. There’s also sauropods – we have trackways [fossilised footprints] on Skye. Everyone loves the dinosaur so here we are in these middle Jurassic rocks in Skye which could potentially tell us so much more about the evolution of the favoured ones – these meat-eating dinosaurs.”

Rachel Wood, Professor of Carbonate Geoscience at the University of Edinburgh, said palaeontology in Scotland has been “reinvigorated”.

She said: “Scotland has the most amazing record of life on the planet … there’s a new generation now working anew on some of these sites, including the Skye dinosaur trackways, and creating new more modern ways of thinking about the evolution of life. It’s pretty massive.

“For a country with a relatively small area, it’s punching way above it’s weight for iconic fossil localities.”

PREVIOUS DISCOVERIES IN SCOTLAND HINTED AT WHAT LIES BENEATH

Evidence that dinosaurs once lived on land which is now the Scotland we know today was first found in 1982 with the discovery of a footprint on Skye thought to have been left by a plant-eating iguanodon-like ornithopod [two-legged, or "bird foot"].

Later discoveries included parts of fossilised bones of sauropods – the largest animals to have ever lived on land – and flesh-eating dinosaurs in the same group as a tyrannosaurus, as well as armoured stegosaurs and anklyosaurs.

Two years ago palaeontologists announced they had discovered 170-million-year-old trackways left by herds of sauropods, making Skye Scotland’s largest dinosaur site.

Dr Steve Brusatte and his team found the footprints on coastal rocks beneath the ruins of Duntulm Castle as the tide turned. Skye now has a world-famous reputation for extremely-rare fossils from the Middle Jurassic period, around 163 to 174 million years ago.

Brusatte said: “There are very few places in the world where you can find fossils from the middle part of the Jurassic. It’s a dark period in dinosaur evolution so Skye turns out to be one of the few places anywhere on the planet that fills that gap.

“It was a very remarkable period of time when Scotland was closer to the equator and was much warmer. It was part of an island but a smaller island than today, in the middle of the Atlantic. The super continent had just started to break up. You had this lush island perched in the middle of this growing ocean. That was ancient Scotland and dinosaurs were thundering across the land.”