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LYON (Reuters Life!) - A set of dinosaur footprints uncovered in eastern France and dating from 150 million years ago has been authenticated by scientists as a unique discovery.
The well-preserved footprints, between 1.5 and two meters in diameter, were discovered in Plagne in the French Jura by a team from Claude Bernard university in Lyon, eastern France.
"It's an exceptional discovery and unique in the world by virtue of the size of the prints, as well as by the length of the trail," Pierre Hantzpergue, geology professor at Lyon university, told Reuters on Tuesday.
"The sauropods' trail was unearthed for 150 meters, but we think we can follow it along several hundred meters," he added.
The sauropod, the most well-known type of which is the diplodocus, were dinosaurs around 30 meters in length with long necks and tails and weighing 30 to 40 tonnes.
The discovery was made in April by members of an amateur science society specializing in geology and paleontology. The finding was authenticated by scientists at France's National Center for Scientific Research and Lyon university.
"They had already discovered a little deposit in 2004 and pursued their search in the area when they found this site," said Hantzpergue.
The prints surfaced during soil erosion caused by wood unloading operations. Each footprint resembles "a vast depression of around 1.5 meters diameter, ringed by excess mud."
The footprints were stamped into calcified mud which hardened before being covered by another layer of mud, which is now as hard as stone and allowed for excellent preservation.
Researchers hope to exhume several thousand more prints based on one or several trails, which would allow them to estimate how many dinosaurs passed through the region. The goal is also to find out what the dinosaurs were doing on this trail.
"The most probable hypothesis is that they were looking for food," said Hantzpergue, adding that the area was once a plain bordering the sea.
Research work at Plagne will continue for at least three years.
Reporting by Catherine Lagrange; Writing by Sophie Taylor, editing by Paul Casciato