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Dino Footprints Found Amongst Diamonds in Angola Mine

Nov 07, 2014 11:21 AM EST

Dinosaur footprints, along with crocodile and large mammal tracks, were found amongst precious diamonds in one of the largest diamond mines in Africa, according to a new study.

The prehistoric gang plodded toward a freshwater lake during the Early Cretaceous period 118 million years ago, leaving their footprints behind in a sedimentary basin. But that doesn't mean that all these animals were close friends. It's possible that they each visited the site at different times and just left their tracks in the same area, researchers note.

Nearly 70 of these distinct track marks were discovered at the Catoca diamond mine in Angola. Possibly the most interesting of them all were those belonging to a raccoon-sized animal, providing the first evidence ever that this type of creature existed during the Late Cretaceous. With a body length measuring between about 42 and 768 centimeters, the prints suggest that the mammal was "exceptionally large for its time," according to Angola paleontologist Marco Marzola.

"We don't have a single skeleton that can be compared in size to such a big animal like [the one] that left those tracks," Marzola, who was involved in the research, told Live Science.

Yet the mammal tracks weren't the only ancient treasure found in this diamond mine. Nearby, 18 sauropod tracks were discovered with a preserved skin impression, along with the uniquely laterally rotated handprints of a crocodilomorph, a group that includes all modern crocodiles and extinct relatives.

The tracks are actually the first fossils ever found from the inlands of Angola. Even though the Catoca Diamond Mine is the fourth largest diamond mine in the world, it stopped mining for eight months in the sector where the fossils were found so that researchers could complete their study.

The unpublished research was presented Nov. 5 at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology's annual meeting in Berlin, and should be viewed as preliminary findings until they appear in a peer-reviewed journal.

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