Prestigious international honour for ‘remarkable’ Staffin man

A STAFFIN man’s work in finding, protecting and preserving dinosaur and fossil bones and footprints has been recognised by one of the world’s leading societies in the field.

Dugie Ross from Ellishadder, who has had a lifelong interest in fossils and runs the Staffin Museum, has received the Mary Anning Award from the Palaeontological Association (PA).

Palaeontology is the branch of science concerned with fossil animals and plants. The award was open to all those who are not professionally employed within palaeontology but who have made an outstanding contribution to the subject.

Dugie was invited to Lyon in France at the end of last year to receive the award but the unassuming Staffin man, who was unaware who had nominated him, could not attend. However, respected palaeontology academics, including Dr Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh and Dr Neil Clark at Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum, travelled to Staffin earlier this summer to present the honour.

Dugie Ross with his award.

“Dugie Ross is one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever worked with,” said Dr Brusatte. “He has almost single handedly uncovered the prehistoric history of Skye by finding the bones and footprints of dinosaurs that lived there 170 million years ago, making sure these are conserved, working with scientists to study them, and then displaying them publicly in a museum he built with his own two hands.

“I’ve never known anyone who has built their own museum before. That tells you how dedicated Dugie is.”

A PA spokesman said: “The award was made to recognise Dugald’s nomination to palaeontology on Skye, particularly his role in the discovery of dinosaur fossils and footprints (including Scotland’s first, as well as fossils of early mammals, not to mention his establishment of the museum in Staffin.”

Dugie first established the museum in 1976 when he was 19-years-old. He has a rich source of knowledge about the Trotternish peninsula’s history, archaeology, landscape and geology. Since Skye’s first dinosaur find in 1982, Dugald has been involved with local research that continues to identify remains. In 2002, the discovery of Middle Jurassic tracks, which showed the footprints of an adult dinosaur with its offspring, has attracted international interest.

To read the PA newsletter documenting the award, click here:

Palaeontological Association Newsletter

The newsletter highlights several key points, summarised below, about his work.

  • Dugie started collecting fossils on Skye as a child, long before academic research teams from Bristol, London, and Oxford (and later Glasgow and Edinburgh) started to work on the island. When Dugie began he was exploring uncharted territory—nobody knew there were dinosaur fossils to be found on Skye.
  • Dugie has amassed a collection of thousands of fossils, most importantly of dinosaur footprints, dinosaur and marine reptile bones, and ammonites. This is the single best collection of Skye fossils in existence.
  • Dugie opened the Staffin Museum which he built with his own two hands, from the ruin of a 19th century schoolhouse. It is a popular tourist site, has hosted thousands of local school children, and has been visited by many researchers.
  • Dugie has steadfastly refused to sell his collection, but rather has made a point to work with scientists. He has published over 10 peer-reviewed papers in some top academic journals over the past two decades, including in Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, Scottish Journal of Geology, and Ichnos. These papers have described, among others, one of the two first dinosaur bone found on Skye, a vast sauropod dinosaur tracksite in an ancient lagoon, a tracksite showing adult and juvenile theropod footprints together, the world’s oldest atoposaurid crocodylomorph, and the first uniquely Scottish marine reptile.
  • Dugie works closely with Scottish Natural Heritage to preserve the palaeontological treasures of Skye. When a particularly important fossil is found, he makes sure it is accessioned into the National Museum of Scotland, the country’s national collection, or The Hunterian, the national geological repository for Scottish universities.
  • Dugie was a founding member of the PalAlba group, a collaborative team of palaeontologists, collectors, and government officials in Scotland that are dedicated to recording, recovering, and researching Scottish vertebrate fossils.
  • Dugie has tirelessly worked to promote the importance of Skye fossils. He appears often on television (e.g., BBC News, BBC Scotland, BBC Alba, ITV), and has opened his museum to many documentary film crews.