Science

These 550-Million-Year-Old Footprints Could Be The Oldest Ever Discovered

These 550-Million-Year-Old Footprints Could Be The Oldest Ever Discovered”

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

The oldest known footprints on Earth, left by an ancient creepy-crawly more than 500 million years ago, have been discovered in China.

Created before the Cambrian Explosion-a sudden burst in animal diversity that took place about 541 million years ago-scientists think these are the oldest trackways ever discovered on Earth.

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 presence of paired appendages (a primitive version of legs and arms) in the anatomy of this prehistoric creature is mirrored in the way the fossil footprints are laid out, Xiao explains.

A staff member of the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences displays the animal fossil footprints, which were made in the Ediacaran Period, June 6, 2018.

The 550-million-year-old tracks measure only a few millimetres in width, and consist of two rows of imprints arranged in what the researchers describe as a "poorly organised series or repeated groups", which could be due to variations in gait, pace, or interactions with the surface of what was once an ancient riverbed.

Until now, there had been no evidence of limbed creatures prior to the Cambrian Explosion, say the researchers from Virginia Tech in the US.

An global 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.

"Animals use their appendages to move around, to build their homes, to fight, to feed, and sometimes to help mate", he said, adding that the movement of sediments by the first legged creatures could have had a major impact on the Earth's geochemical cycles and climate.

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 hoped that the sunlight would reveal subtle marks left by ancient organisms on the Shibantan trackways.

"Together, these trackways and burrows mark the arrival of a new era characterized by an increasing geobiological footprint of bilaterian animals", the researchers point out.

Bilaterian animals such as arthropods and annelids have paired appendages and are among the most diverse animals today and in the geological past.

The trackways appear to be connected to burrows, suggesting that the animals may have periodically dug into sediments, perhaps to mine oxygen and food.



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