Nearly 70 individual fossil footprints were recently uncovered in a diamond mine in Angola, including examples from dinosaurs, mammals, and crocodiles, as well as an exceptionally large mystery mammal that scientists have yet to identify.
The footprints were left in sediment nearly 118 million years ago, according to the International Business Times. Uncovered by an international team of paleontologists headed by Marco Marzola from the New University of Lisbon, Portugal, the footprints were likely left at different times, near what was once a lake.
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The scientists presented their findings last week at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s annual meeting in Berlin. Among the most impressive finds were the 1.5 centimeter long, five toed footprints of a mammal that would have been as large as a modern-day raccoon. As Livescience notes, mammals at the time were no larger than rats, making the discovery a particularly rare one.
“Mammals evolved from very small-sized individuals,” Marzola explained. “The first mammals were the size of a squirrel or even smaller, like a mouse. They evolved to become bigger in size, but only after the time of the dinosaurs.”
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In addition to the mammal footprints, 18 dinosaur tracks were also discovered in the area. Likely belonging to a sauropod, long-necked dinosaurs that were among the largest animals ever to walk to Earth, one of the footprints exhibited well-preserved skin impressions.
The prehistoric footprints were first spotted in December 2010, by Geologist Vladimir Pervov, who works for the Sociedade Mineira de Catoca. Pervov contacted researchers working with the PaleoAngola Project, who in turn enlisted representatives of the diamond mine to help preserve the footprints.
“Incredibly, the society of Catoca stopped all activity in that sector of the mine,” Marzola noted. “[They] renounced potential income from their own mine just to promote science — to promote vertebrate paleontology in Angola and in Africa.”
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Angola’s Catoca diamond mine, where the fossil footprints were discovered, is the fourth largest diamond mine in the world.
Last year, a group of fossilized dinosaur footprints was discovered in Alaska, as the Inquisitr previously noted. Uncovered along the Yukon River, the footprints provided scientists with evidence of a great diversity of dinosaur species present in the prehistoric ecosystem.
[Image: Octávio Mateus via International Business Times]