Fossil footprints of large reptiles discovered in the Western Alps

An unexpected palaeontological discovery on the Gardetta plateau in Upper Val Maira  

A study, just published in the journal PeerJ by a multidisciplinary team of Italian and Swiss researchers, signed by geologists and palaeontologists from the MUSE - Science Museum of Trento and other important university institutions (Turin, Rome and Genoa), reveals the discovery of footprints of giant reptiles in the Cottian Alps dating back 250 million years ago.

An unexpected discovery: a series of fossil footprints made by large reptiles, vaguely similar to crocodiles, imprinted 250 million years ago in the Western Alps. The footprints were discovered at an altitude of around 2200 metres in the area of the Gardetta Plateau in the Upper Maira Valley, in the province of Cuneo, following the thesis work of Enrico Collo, a geologist from Dronero. 

According to Fabio Massimo Petti of the MUSE, expert on fossil footprints and the first author of the paper, this is a unique find in Europe: "The footprints are exceptionally well preserved and have such a peculiar morphology that we have decided to define a new icnospecies, which we have dedicated to the Gardetta Plateau", that is the Isochirotherium gardettensis.

Palaeontologist Massimo Bernardi of the MUSE emphasises that these findings testify to the presence of large reptiles in a place and geological time that was thought to be characterised by inhospitable environmental conditions.

Project coordinator Massimo Delfino, of the University of Turin's Department of Earth Sciences, says that financial coverage is needed now to ensure the accurate and comprehensive collection of scientifically important information, the long-term conservation of the Gardetta's palaeontological heritage, and its enhancement with a view to promoting the natural features of Val Maira as a cultural and tourist destination.


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