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Dino prints make link to Africa likely

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ROME — The discovery of as many as 60 dinosaurs footprints in the "spur" of the Italian peninsula has added new evidence to the theory that Italy was once part of a land mass attached to the African continent, geologists said Tuesday.

The three-fingered footprints, some as long as 18 inches, were found in June in a cave near San Giovanni Rotondo, in the southeastern region of Puglia, said Alfonso Bosellini, a geology professor and the head of the group of researchers who made the recently announced discovery.

"It is not as if you can be 100 percent sure, but at this point it is highly probable that Italy was connected to Africa," Bosellini told The Associated Press.

Bosellini said that the footprints attest to the presence here of at least four different types of huge dinosaurs, both meat-eating and plant-eating, believed to have lived 120 to 130 million years ago at the end of the Jurassic era.

Back then, the land that now makes up Italy was a single land mass with what is now the Balkans, all sharing the same geological composition. For some decades, experts have debated whether the mass was connected to the African continent or stood alone.

In order to survive, Bosellini explained, the dinosaurs needed huge lands and a lot of water — things they would have found only if what is now Italy was attached to Africa.

Shallow waters — about 33 to 66 feet deep — separated the Italian land from Africa when the dinosaurs were roaming around. But "with low tides, the water was easy to cross for animals which were as tall as" 16.5 feet, said Bosellini, who lectures at Ferrara University.

The search is on for more prints.

The only other known dinosaurs prints in Italy were found in Altamura, farther south in Puglia.

Bosellini said those belonged to smaller and more recent animals, which lived about 70 million years ago.

Dinosaurs are believed to have disappeared 65 to 70 million years ago, while Europe and Africa are believed to have parted about 50 million years ago.