Half-billion-year-old fossils are the oldest animal footprints ever found

09 Juin, 2018, 11:26 | Auteur: Therese Cote

The study team involves the scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology.

The rock layers where the fossils were found date between 551 million and 541 million years ago, suggesting the footprints were made some time between those dates.

An global team of scientists has just discovered fossil footprints in China, dating back approximately 635-541 million years, in the Ediacaran Period. Today, these creatures are spread throughout the Earth and are among the most diverse forms of animal life on the planet, notes the report.

Both the footprints and the borrows are known as "trace fossils", a term that refers to fossilized remnants that animals leave behind, such as fossilized poop, rather than fossils of the animals themselves.

They are often assumed to have appeared and radiated suddenly during the so-called "Cambrian Explosion" about 541 to 510 million years ago, but scientists now tend to consider that their evolutionary ancestry was rooted in the Ediacaran Period.

The paleontological team found two rows of footprints that represent not only the earliest footprints ever found but also the earliest known record of an animal with legs. They are often assumed to have appeared and radiated suddenly during the "Cambrian Explosion" about 541-510 million years ago, although it has always been suspected that their evolutionary ancestry was rooted in the Ediacaran Period.

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"The irregular arrangement of tracks in the. trackways may be taken as evidence that the movement of their trace maker's appendages was poorly coordinated and is distinct from the highly coordinated metachronal (wave-like) rhythm typical of modern arthropods", the Chinese and American team led by Dr Shuhai Xiao, from Virginia Tech in the USA, wrote in the journal Science Advances.

In the end, without a complete fossil record, we can not make any presumptions regarding the needs or the habits of the animal.

The research was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances by scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Virginia Tech.

Mystery surrounds the one-millimetre long creatures that made the prints, since no trace of their bodies has been found. It is uncertain if the organism belongs to the arthropod family, although the researchers believe it could be a bilaterian with paired feet. The trackways also indicate a connection to burrowing, suggesting that whatever animal made the tracks might have had a habit of digging into sediments.

The researchers, led by Zhe Chen and Shuhai Xiao, say it's highly likely the prints were produced by a bilaterian animal with paired appendages, but they know very little beyond that.

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