While spending a day trekking in the backcountry, you might spot a bald eagle or see some bear scat, but the last thing you'd expect to uncover is a dinosaur print belonging to an 82-foot long-necked herbivore. But, back in April, hikers in France did just that.
On Tuesday, French researchers announced the discovery of some of the largest dinosaur prints ever documented. The 20 prints, found on 25 acres in the Jura Mountains in Eastern France, measure up to 4.9 ft. in diameter. Paleontologists estimate that there could be hundreds, if not thousands, more prints in the area.
The footprints date back to roughly 150 million years ago in the Late Jurassic period, and belong to sauropods, the massive plant-eating group that includes brontosaurus. Back when these 44-ton beasts stomped around the this part of France, it resembled the Bahamas both in climate and in landscape.
Here’s what paleontologist Jean-Michel Mazin of France’s National Center of Scientific Research told the Associated Press about the preserved prints:
Mazin said the dinosaurs are believed to have left their tracks near the water in mud, which then dried in the sun and was set like plaster. The sea slowly washed sediment onto the prints, trapping them and sealing them off — which protected them throughout history, even during dramatic changes to the landscape.
The hikers and noted amateur fossil enthusiasts—teacher Marie-Helene Marcaud and geologist Patrice Landry—uncovered the fossilized footprints while on a regular expedition with the Naturalists’ Society of Oyonnak. The group was hiking through a well-traveled mountain prairie when the pair sighted the massive mark left many millions of years before. Scientists believe that topsoil erosion (and a trained eye) made the discovery possible.
While most backpackers do it for the flora and fauna, exercise, or expansive views, some for the thrill, we're actually the ideal demographic to stumble across something ancient in a far-off place. Have you been bitten by the discovery bug? Scratch your Indiana Jones itch with our travel guide to discovering ancient artifacts.
Now That's One Big Foot