pounds 11m price-tag placed on dinosaur footprints

ELIZABETH NASH

Ourem, central Portugal

Jurassic dinosaur footprints more than 170 million years old face destruction by mechanical diggers unless a Portuguese quarry-owner receives pounds 11m compensation from the Lisbon government. The tracks, discovered in July last year during routine excavation of the limestone hills in Ourem, have been assessed by palaeontologists as the longest and best-preserved in the world.

Rui Galinha, whose father started the quarry 35 years ago, parked in the middle of a vast, slightly tilted field of rock and pointed out the footprints that form 20 separate tracks criss-crossing 18 acres. He said: "I would be very sorry if the tracks had to be destroyed, but I have a business to run. I have been waiting 14 months and the government has done nothing. My company is suffering and I am having to lay off workers."

An American geologist, Martin Lockley, who examined the tracks said: "The site is quite unique in the world for displaying the best examples of brontosaur tracks known anywhere. "It is also important because the Middle Jurassic [167-187 million years ago] is a poorly-known epoch in geologic history, akin to the Dark Ages."

Mr Galinha said Ernest Young, an English property company, valued the site at pounds 11m, so he gave the government an ultimatum: it paid up by the end of August, or he would start digging. He was running out of stone to meet his contractual agreements, and running out of capital to invest in new machinery.

But the Socialist leader, Antonio Guterres, appealed in mid-campaign for Mr Galinha to stay his hand until after the general election, which his party won. "He promised he would preserve the site, but he would have to negotiate the price," Mr Galinha said.

He said villagers in nearby Bairro had built a 10ft model of a dinosaur that stands beside the football pitch, a huge egg by its side. "If the next prime minister doesn't solve this problem soon, they say they're going to take this dinosaur to Lisbon and dump it on his doorstep."

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