Scientists have discovered over 85 well-preserved dinosaur footprints made by at least seven different species between 145 and 100 million years ago.
The footprints were identified by researchers of University of Cambridge in the UK between 2014 and 2018, following periods of coastal erosion along the cliffs near Hastings.
Many of the footprints -- which range in size from less than two cm to over 60 cm across -- are so well-preserved that fine detail of skin, scales and claws is easily visible.
The footprints date from the Lower Cretaceous epoch, between 145 and 100 million years ago, with prints from herbivores including Iguanodon, Ankylosaurus, a species of stegosaur, and possible examples from the sauropod group (which included Diplodocus and Brontosaurus); as well as meat-eating theropods.
Over the past 160 years, there have been sporadic reports of fossilised dinosaur footprints along the Sussex coast, but no new major discoveries have been described for the past quarter century and the earlier findings were far less varied and detailed than those described in the current research.
The area around Hastings is one of the richest in the UK for dinosaur fossils, including the first known Iguanodon in 1825, and the first confirmed example of fossilised dinosaur brain tissue in 2016.
However, trace fossils such as footprints, which can help scientists learn more about the composition of dinosaur communities, are less common in the area.
"Whole body fossils of dinosaurs are incredibly rare," 's Department of Earth Sciences and the paper's first author.
"A collection of footprints like this helps you fill in some of the gaps and infer things about which dinosaurs were living in the same place at the same time," said said Anthony Shillito, a PhD student at Cambridge.
The footprints were uncovered during the past four winters, when strong storms and storm surges led to periods of collapse of the sandstone and mudstone cliffs.
In the Cretaceous Period, the area where the footprints were found was likely near a water source, and in addition to the footprints, a number of fossilised plants and invertebrates were also found.
"As well as the large abundance and diversity of these prints, we also see absolutely incredible detail," said Shillito.
"You can clearly see the texture of the skin and scales, as well as four-toed claw marks, which are extremely rare," he said.
"You can get some idea about which dinosaurs made them from the shape of the footprints -- comparing them with what we know about dinosaur feet from other fossils lets you identify the important similarities," said Shillito.
"When you also look at footprints from other locations you can start to piece together which species were the key players," he said.