ANGEAC-CHARENTE (France) • Scientists have unearthed a huge 2m-long dinosaur bone in a wine-growing village in south-western France, dubbed a "national treasure" for its prehistoric gems.
The 140-million-year-old thigh bone, which weighs 400kg, is the latest discovery at the vast Angeac-Charente palaeontological site near Bordeaux, where experts and volunteers have dug up thousands of bones over the past decade.
Thanks to its remarkably good condition, the femur - which scientists say probably belonged to a gigantic sauropod - could help piece together an incomplete set of bones.
"We were wondering how big it was. We kept saying, 'Oh, there's more!'" said Mr Maxime Lasseron, the doctoral student who made the gigantic discovery.
The largest land animals ever to roam the earth, sauropods were massive plant-eating dinosaurs with a long neck and tail, towering up to 18m tall.
Tests will now compare the femur to another thigh bone discovered in 2010 to find out if they belonged to the same type of sauropod or even the same creature.
Now known for its cognac vineyards, Angeac-Charente was home to a vast ecosystem of dinosaurs, invertebrates and vegetation, thanks to its humid and subtropical climate millions of years ago.
Dr Ronan Allain, a palaeontologist at the French Museum of Natural History in Paris, said: "There was a river and large coniferous trees. Amphibians, crocodiles and fish lived in the swamp, and on dry land, small and large dinosaurs. It was full of life."
The discovery coincides with the 10th annual dig at the site, which stretches over 750 sq m. But with more finds expected, the site's owners have given diggers the go-ahead to excavate in another 4,000 sq m of land.