Earliest animal footprints found in China

James Marshall
June 9, 2018

This 'explosion' - which ignited some 541 million years ago - saw the rapid emergence of a diversified spread of animal phyla over a period lasting perhaps 25 million years.

The scientists in China have discovered the fossilized animal footprints of the ancient times. Soft tissues aren't prone to fossilisation, since they degrade quickly after death, so scientists have only a shady conception of what some of our planet's earliest animals were like. It is uncertain if the organism belongs to the arthropod family, although the researchers believe it could be a bilaterian with paired feet.

An global 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.

"We do not know exactly what animals made these footprints, other than that the animals must have been bilaterally symmetric because they had paired appendages", said Chen.

According to the team, the animal appeared to have paused time to time as the footprints were connected to burrows.

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

This remarkable discovery is hailed in a study, published yesterday in the journal Science Advances by a research team from Virginia Tech University in the US and the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology (NIGP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

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

The trackways were found in the Yangtze Gorges area of South China, and date to the Ediacaran Period 541 million to 635 million years ago.

Trackways and burrows excavated in situ from the Ediacaran Dengying Formation. They have published their findings in the journal Science Advances on June 6.

It was a commonly held belief in scientific circles that animals with limbs and jointed appendages did not appear and diversify till the Cambrian Explosion that took place around 541 to 510 million years ago.

The odd-looking prehistoric trackways show two rows of imprints that resemble a series of repeated footprints, the researchers said.

The characteristics of the trackways indicated that they were produced by bilaterian animals with paired appendages that raised the animal body above the water-sediment interface. The body fossils of this animal have not been found and might not ever be discovered.

He also said that arthropods and annelids or their ancestors are possible.

The fossil measures only a few centimeters away, although the researchers did not know how the species looked like.

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