The discovery, defined by specialists as “exceptional”, itself contains a story, as it was made known to geologists by Eduardo Leitão, who found and identified, along the road attached to the land, the stone with the 35-centimetre fossil embedded in it.
Vanda Faria dos Santos, researcher at the Department of Geology (Instituto D. Luiz) of the University of Lisbon and a specialist in dinosaur footprints, underlines the “recognition” of the scientific community for those who found the fossil: “It was not selfish and they were interested in sharing it and making it public. Another person would have perhaps simply taken [the stone] home”, she said.
The couple who own the land did not oppose the presence of the researchers and the transport of the stone to the Municipal Museum of Figueira da Foz, where it will soon be on exhibition.
“There were a lot of happy coincidences”, noted Vanda Santos, who until 2017 was a researcher at the National Museum of Natural History and Science, anticipating “an entire adventure” and “a challenge” for the scientists’ work on the find.
About the fossilised footprint, where three claws are visible, Vanda Santos said that “the fact that it is much longer than it is wide, makes one think of a carnivore [dinosaur]”, from the Upper Jurassic period.
At the time, 154 million years ago, what today is the slope of the Boa Viagem mountain range facing Figueira da Foz would have been, according to specialists, water courses that crossed that place, the delta river with several canals, where dinosaurs strolled along the banks.
“It would be kilometres and kilometres of extensive plains, from here to Galicia [Spain], with shallow waters”, explained Vanda Santos.
Asked by the Lusa agency about the area, geologist Pedro Callapez, from the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Coimbra (UC), explains that 154 million years ago “there was only a portion of the North Atlantic”, an ocean that began formed 215 million years ago, “like a ‘zipper’, from north to south”.
“We have a hard time imagining this”, declares Pedro Callapez, giving the example of Newfoundland, Canada, today about 4,000 kilometres from the European continent, but which, at the time when dinosaurs roamed what is now the mainland Portugal, was “a few hundred kilometres away”.
“And the Alps, the Pyrenees didn’t exist, nor the Boa Viagem mountains. There were no pronounced mountainous reliefs, the Boa Viagem mountain range is not more than 2.5 million years old, it was formed when the Iberian Peninsula was pressed against North Africa”, says Pedro Callapez.
The geologist from the UC, who has a master’s degree in Geosciences and a doctorate in Paleontology, points out that a “unique fossil, is not found every day” and highlighted its scientific, heritage, recreational-tourist and educational relevance.
The footprint which has been found follows several other discoveries in that region, namely identified in the Cabo Mondego area, where the so-called Atlantic Geopark is expected to be created.
Vanda Santos recalls the “pioneering” work developed there, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, by Jacinto Pedro Gomes, alerted by mine workers “who said there were curious fossils on the beach”.
These, says the researcher, were eventually removed from the site in order to survive the erosive action of the sea and have been in the Geological Museum of Lisbon ever since, a situation that the Figueira da Foz local authority intends to see reversed.
Researcher Vanda Santos, who argues that the geological heritage should be preserved in the place where it is found, argues that, in this case and with due care, “nothing prevents” the move from Lisbon to Figueira da Foz.
“They may or may not come, it is a matter of political decision”, said the scientist.