The fossil footprints of gigantic prehistoric reptiles discovered in the Alps
Last Update: 2021-01-26 16:50:12 IST
In the mountains of the Cuneo area, fossil tracks of gigantic reptiles, similar to crocodiles, which lived about 250 million years ago have been found.
When we think of the most famous fossils in the world we always think of those that come from faraway places: China, America, Russia ... and we tend to forget that Italy also has a remarkable heritage of remains that tell about hundreds of millions of years of history of the Earth; a treasure that we do not yet know fully, as evidenced by the continuous discoveries of recent years.
The latest in chronological order comes from a joint study by the universities of Turin, Rome Sapienza, Genoa and Zurich together with the MUSE of Trento, published on PeerJ and which tells of a new discovery made in the Piedmontese Alps: the fossil footprints of large reptiles similar to crocodiles, lived in our mountains (which at the time were not yet mountains) about 250 million years ago.
The discovery took place in the Alta Val Maira, at 2,200 meters above sea level, on the Gardetta plateau: here, in 2008 and then 2009, the geologist Enrico Collo discovered in some rocks a series of footprints left by those he himself described. like reptiles. Today these footprints have been studied and identified, and attributed to Chirotherium, a so-called ichnogenus of reptiles. The term refers not to the classical taxonomy, but to that of footprints: even the traces of legs left in the rock can be identified and classified, and those discovered in Alta Val Maira belong precisely to the genus Chirotherium, more precisely to a new ichnospecies, Isochirotherium gardettensis.
Having only the footprints available, it is impossible to establish which biological species they belonged to, but an anatomical study conducted starting from the few elements available (mainly the shape and size of the footprints) made it possible to determine that the animal was a reptile at least four meters long. .
The discovery of these footsteps is also important for our understanding of what Italy was like millions of years ago. The reason why the traces of Isochirotherium have been preserved so well is that at the time the Gardetta was not a plateau at over 2,000 meters above sea level but a coast, located near the delta of a river and in contact with the sea; the muddy bottoms favored the formation of footprints, which then solidified and were raised together with the rest of the Alps.
It was once believed that this area, despite its proximity to the sea, was inhospitable and unsuitable for life, but the footprints of Isochirotherium, which testify to the presence of large reptiles, indicate on the contrary that what is now the Gardetta plateau was, 250 million years ago, an area rich in life forms.