Geology museums of Britain: Staffin (Dinosaur) Museum, Isle of Skye

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Jon Trevelyan (UK)

I had the good fortune recently and rather delightfully to spend a week on the beautiful Isle of Skye, the largest of the Inner Hebrides. The weather was surprisingly good for September and a good time was had by all.

In terms of geology, there are some exceptionally old rocks on Skye. We were staying on the east coast of the Sleat Peninsula, which consists of Lewisian gneiss, which is some 2.8 billion years old, and nearby is Torridonian sandstone, which is a mere 550 million years old. There are also Triassic rocks, from a time when Skye was part of a vast desert and there are the much younger, Palaeocene rocks of the Skye volcano, whose gabbros makes up the glorious Cuillin ridge (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. A classic view of the gabbro of the mighty Cuillin Ridge.

So, while I was there, I took the opportunity to leave the family in their respective beds early one morning (none of whom are really interested in geology) and drive to the little Staffin Museum (known also as Staffin Dinosaur Museum), in the northeast of the island. This also provided me with the opportunity to drive past and visit some of Skye’s other geological highlights, namely the Storr (Fig. 2), the impressive Mealt Falls cascading directly into the sea and the equally impressive Kilt Rock (Fig. 3).

Fig. 2. The Storr.
Fig. 3. Mealt Falls, with the basalt columns of Kilt Rock in the background.

However, it is Skye’s Jurassic rocks, from a time when a warm shallow sea covered the area, that yield the finest of fossils (Fig. 4). In fact, the island is rightly famous for its Jurassic fossils and has a number of sites that are worth visiting, with geology from the Hettangian at the bottom of the Lower Jurassic to the Oxfordian at the base of the Upper Jurassic. But it is its dinosaur footprints (Figs. 5 to 7) that perhaps fires up the imagination the most (see, for example, Dinosaurs footprints on the Isle of Skye, Scotland).

Fig. 4. A variety of the Jurassic fossils that can be found on Skye and seen at the museum.

So there are certainly some good geological resources to stock the museum. In fact, the Staffin Dinosaur Museum was established by Dugald Ross in 1976, when he was only a teenager. As far as Skye dinosaurs are concerned, he himself has identified a number, including Stegosaurus, Megalosaurus, Cetiosaurus, Hadrosaurus and Ceolophysis, and there is evidence of these at the museum (Figs. 5 to 7).

Fig. 5. A limb of of the dinosaur, Cetiosaurus, from the Middle Jurassic of 175 million years ago. It was the first recorded dinosaur fossil from Scotland and was found about one kilometre from the museum.
Fig. 6. Skye is famous for its dinosaur footprints and the museum has some excellent examples. This is part of a sandstone block from Score Bay, containing the footprints of adult and juvenile dinosaurs.
Fig. 7. More dinosaur footprints (and other trace fossils).

As far as the museum is concerned, it moved to its present building in 1994. This was originally a byre (that is, a cowshed, Fig 8), which also used to be a Gaelic school run by the church in the early nineteenth century. It contains many fossils, several of which were found by Dugald, along with many other non-geological cultural artefacts. However, it is its palaeontological exhibits that attracted me to visit the museum and, if you are reading this article, will probably be of most interest to you.

Fig. 8. The museum, clearly showing its origins as a byre.

However, it is not just dinosaurs that you can look at. Other vertebrate and invertebrate fossils you can see at the museum include a Hybodus dorsal fin (Fig. 9), bones from an ichthyosaur (Fig. 10), crinoids (Fig. 11), bivalves (Fig. 12), brachiopods (Fig. 13), belemnites (Figs. 14 and 15) and much else besides. However, in my view, it is Skye’s ammonites that really steal the show and make this museum well worth visiting (Figs. 16 to 19).

Fig. 9. A Hybodus (shark) dorsal fin, from the Bathonian of the Middle Jurassic, found at Culnacnoc in northeast Skye.
Fig. 10. An imprint of an ichthyosaur jaw and teeth from the Upper Jurassic of Borroraig.
Fig. 11. Crinoid ossicles (Pentacrinites) from the Oxford Clay of Flodigarry.
Fig. 12. The ubiquitous Jurassic bivalve, Pleuromya.
Fig. 13. The brachiopod, Tetrahynchia, from Holm, in the northeast of Skye.
Fig. 14. A massive belemnite (Megateuthis giganteus) – by far the largest I have ever seen – found at Rigg by Dugal Ross in 1985. It is about 80cm long, including the phragmocone,
Fig 15. More wonderful cephalopods from the Isle of Skye.
Fig. 16. The classic ammonite from Skye, Ludwigia murchisonae, together with a nautilus and an extraordinary belemnite phragmocone attached to another ammonite.
Fig. 17. Two lovely ammonites from Beareraig Bay.
Fig. 18. Ammonites in concretionary nodules.
Fig. 19. A Stephanoceras ammonite and septarian nodules.
Fig. 20. A host of other fossils on an old wooden bench at the museum.

The museum can be found at Elishader in Staffin (postcode: IV51 9JE). For details of opening times and more, call 01470 562 321 or email dugaldross@aol.com.

The other articles in this series consist of:
Geology museums of Britain: Whitby Museum, Yorkshire
Geology museums of Britain: The Booth Museum of Natural History, Brighton
Geology museums of Britain: The Museum of London
Geology museums of Britain: The National Stone Centre, Derbyshire
Geology museums of Britain: Staffin (Dinosaur) Museum, Isle of Skye
Geology museums of Britain: Watchet Market House Museum, Somerset (to be published)
Geology museums of Britain: The Museum of Somerset, Taunton (to be published)

Further reading

Jurassic Skye: Dinosaurs & other fossils of the Isle of Skye by Sarah White and Dugald Ross, Pisces Publications, Berkshire (2020), 63 pages (paperback), ISBN: 978-1-874357-97-1.

Other Deposits articles on Skye
Dinosaurs footprints on the Isle of Skye, Scotland
Skye: Island of Dreams
Geological field trip through Scotland: Basalts from the Isle of Skye
Concretions in sandstones of the Inner Hebrides, Scotland
Dinosaurs in Scotland

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