London (CNN)Footprints discovered on a beach in Wales are believed to have been made by an early dinosaur more than 200 million years ago, experts say.
Paleontologists at London's Natural History Museum said the footprints, which date back to the Triassic period, were thought to belong to a very early sauropod or sauropod relative.
"We know early sauropods were living in Britain at the time, as bones of Camelotia, a very early sauropod, have been found in Somerset in rocks dated to the same period," Dr. Susannah Maidment, a paleontologist at the museum who was involved in the research, said in a statement announcing the findings.
"We don't know if this species was the track-maker, but it is another clue which suggests something like it could have made these tracks."
Maidment and her colleague, professor Paul Barrett, were initially sent images of the tracks at the beach in Penarth by an amateur paleontologist in 2020. At first, they were skeptical of the findings.
"We get a lot of enquiries from members of the public for things that could be trackways but many are geological features that can easily be mistaken for them," Maidment said. "However, from the photographs, we thought they were a fairly good contender for something that could be tracks and that it would be worth taking a look."
The pair collaborated with colleagues and found that the site had been previously inspected by Cindy Howells, a paleontologist from the National Museum of Wales, a French team, and a group from Cardiff University.
Maidment and Barrett went to the site to investigate the tracks and record measurements.
"We believed the impressions we saw at Penarth were consistently spaced to suggest an animal walking. We also saw displacement rims where mud had been pushed up. These structures are characteristic of active movement through the soft ground," Barrett said in the museum's announcement of the findings.
Their findings could also reveal information about the dinosaurs' behavioral qualities, such as how they walked, and traveled in herds.
"These types of tracks are not particularly common worldwide, so we believe this is an interesting addition to our knowledge of Triassic life in the UK. The record of Triassic dinosaurs in this country is fairly small, so anything we can find from the period adds to our picture of what was going on at that time," Barrett said.
The footprints will remain on the beach until they are worn away by the tide, the museum said.