Scale is a relative thing. When I go into schools for example, I am always surprised by a) how small the chairs actually are in classrooms and b) how even at 5ft, I seem to tower over the multitude of little people chattering down below me. If you have already been to see to see Dippy on Tour at the Dorset County Museum, you’ll know and feel this sense of scale implicitly. At 22 metres long and over 4 metres high, Dippy dominates the space that he occupies in the museum. As part of my job in helping to deliver Dippy on Tour, I have spent considerable time with the beast himself. It never fails to amaze me and to those visitors that I have talked to after their tour, how enormous he actually is.
Dippy belongs to the Sauropod family which were the largest land animals that ever lived. At over 100 tonnes, an average dinosaur would have weighed ten times the record weight of a modern elephant. The Sauropods were very successful herbivores (plant-eating dinosaurs) that evolved in the early Jurassic to survive for almost 100 million years. On the Jurassic Coast, Sauropod fossil bones are incredibly rare and it’s worth noting that the original Diplodocus fossil bones were found in Wyoming, USA. Back here at the Jurassic Coast however, our key fossil link to the Sauropods can be found at Keates Quarry in Purbeck.
At this modest location just off the Priests Way near Worth Matravers, you can literally walk in the footsteps of dinosaurs. A series of Sauropod trackways criss-cross the limestone surface of a disused quarry. The footprints were covered for almost 20 years due to lack of access and also to protect their integrity. Once the area was designated as a protected landscape, volunteers from the National Trust and the Jurassic Coast Trust worked together to clear the vegetation, rubble and moss to expose the scientifically stunning and evocative footprints. The footprints formed as a result of the dinosaurs walking across a very muddy lagoon almost 140 million years ago. The impressions they left behind were immediately filled in with sediment and buried which ensured that they were preserved as trace fossils.
I have visited Keates Quarry with my family numerous times; my 6 year old daughter was able to sit in one of the footprints with room to spare. So if you too want to feel like a tiny extra in Jurassic Park, a visit to Keates Quarry should definitely be on your wishlist. This year as part of Dippy on Tour, the Jurassic Coast Trust’s Ambassadors will be leading walks to Keates Quarry every Saturday in April. If you want to get an expert-led tour of this brilliant site, why not book yourself a place! The walks are leisurely lunch-time strolls, suitable for all ages.
Dr Anjana Khatwa Ford, Programme Manager for Learning, Jurassic Coast Trust