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World's Oldest Footprints Discovered on Ancient Seafloor

08 June 2018, 10:25 | Dale Webster

540m-year-old bug tracks are oldest footprints ever discovered

The animal appears to have paused from time to time since the trackways appear to be connected to burrows that may have been dug into the sediment

Scientists have found what they think is the oldest animal footprint in the fossil record, uncovering incredibly ancient track marks imprinted in the dirt as far back as 550 million years ago.

An worldwide research team discovered the fossil tracks in China dating back to the Ediacaran Period, just before the Cambrian Explosion when life on Earth increased rapidly.

"This is considered the earliest animal fossil footprint record", said the report in the U.S. journal, Science Advances.

But what about Earth - when did animals first leave footprints here?

This means that the symmetrical creature appeared before the Cambrian Period, Chen noted.

The trackways' characteristics indicate that a bilaterian animal - that is, a creature with bilateral symmetry that has a head at one end, a back end at the other, and a symmetrical right and left side - made the tracks.

The remarkable discovery reveals how creatures with paired legs were scuttling around over 100million years earlier than previously thought.

The trackways were also connected to the burrows which just strengthened the hypothesis that they were left by animals who dug burrows in the sediment for food.

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.




The tracks are only a few millimeters in diameter and dot the soft gray limestone found in the Yangtze Gorges region of China.

The members of the research team can't figure out whether the animal has two or more legs but they assume that the footprints may belong to a bilaterian- animals characterized by having paired legs.

"Animals use their appendages to move around, to build their homes, to fight, to feed, and sometimes to help mate", Virginia Tech University geobiologist and lead study author Shuhai Xiao told the Guardian.

"The footprints are organised in two parallel rows, as expected if they were made by animals with paired appendages", Xiao told The Independent.

Until the current discovery, however, no fossil record of animal appendages had been found in that period.

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

'Arthropods and annelids, or their ancestors, are possibilities.

"This style of preservation is distinct from other types of trace fossils, for example, tunnels or burrows, or body fossils".



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