Dinosaur footprints found at mine

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A large area of fossilized dinosaur footprints has been found at a copper mine in Sichuan province.

The mine's owner has agreed to a request from Zhaojue county, in the Liangshan Yi autonomous prefecture, to stop operations, Ebi Jiefang, former head of the Zhaojue cultural heritage administration, said on Thursday.

On the afternoon of Nov 28, Ebi was at his home in Xichang when he received a call from Zike Lage, Party secretary of Zhaojue county.

"He said fossilized dinosaur footprints had been found after rocks were blasted away in the Sanbiluoga Copper Mine, and he sent an SUV to Xichang to take me to the site," Ebi said.

At the mine he found dinosaur footprints in three areas ranging from 4,000 to 8,000 square meters. At one site, footprints of two, three, four and five toes were seen.

"It was the first time I had seen fossilized footprints with two toes," Ebi said.

Fossilized dinosaur footprints had been seen at the copper mine in 1991, but nobody knew what they were. Four years later, Ebi went to the site with a curator of the Sichuan Museum, who was an expert in ancient creatures, and verified them.

Fossilized dinosaur footprints had also been found at another site in Zhaojue, he said.

Based on many sets of prints, scientists have made discoveries, including proving that carnivorous dinosaurs-previously thought to be poorly adapted to aquatic conditions-could swim, he said.

But one set of prints, a collection of around 3,000 dinosaur tracks discovered in 1991, has been destroyed by mining.

Xing Lida from China University of Geosciences will arrive in Zhaojue later this month. Together with other paleontologists, Xing is expected to formulate a suggestion for protecting the footprints, Ebi said.

Zhaojue is a poor county needing financial support from higher-level governments for protection, he said.

Paleontologists think that more than 100 million years ago, Zhaojue had soft lake sediments on which dinosaurs walked, leaving deep footprints that were covered by sediment and fossilized.

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