Researchers Report the Earliest Fossil Footprints

Trackways and burrows excavated in situ from the Ediacaran Dengying Formation. Credit NIGP

Image The prints were found near the Yangtze Gorges. Credit NIGP

Because the tracks are older than any known fossil of a legged animal, they are crucial for understanding how early animals evolved during the infant days of life on earth.

The scientists in China have discovered the fossilized animal footprints of the ancient times.

Senior author Shuhai Xiao, who is a geobiologist at the Virginia Tech University, says that the new discovery is a crucial step in identifying the first ever animal that grew a pair of legs.

An worldwide team of scientists has reported the discovery of oldest footprints ever found on Earth, which was left behind by a mysterious animal that roamed our planet sometime between 541 and 551 million years ago - way before many known animals, including dinosaurs, thrived and became extinct.

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The trackways are irregular, the scientists found, with two rows of imprints that suggest they were created by a bilaterian animal whose appendages raised it above the ground. "It is important to know when the first appendages appeared, and in what animals, because this can tell us when and how animals began to change to the Earth in a particular way".

Still, this discovery means that paleontologists will have to revise their vision of how life developed in Earth's primordial oceans.

Researchers on the study came from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Virginia Tech in the United States.

That timeline would place the tracks in the Edicaran Period, making them the first animal prints found from that time in history.

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Unearthed in Southern China, the footprints are no more than a few millimeters wide, notes Science Alert, and were found in the Dengying Formation, a rich fossil site in the Yangtze Gorges area. Also, the trackways appear to be connected to burrows, suggesting the presence of complex behaviours.

The study was published online today (June 6) in the journal Science Advances. They observed the trackways, which were not regular, and after analyzing their characteristics, they reached the conclusion that these were formed by bilaterian animals with paired appendages.

The scientists weren't able to locate the body fossils of the animals that made these traces.

As modern arthropods and annelids served as appropriate analogs for the interpretation of this fossil, the researchers posit the animal in question could be the ancestor of either of the two groups.

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The tracks of life show that the animal burrowed its way into sediments and microbial mats, probably looking for food or oxygen, which was very rare before the Cambrian explosion. Maybe they were never preserved.

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