Oldest fossil footprints on Earth discovered in China

Scientists have uncovered the earliest footprints left by animals on Earth, dating back more than half a billion years.

Scientists from China and the USA have found what they say are the earliest animal footprints ever discovered. This new discovery is not providing scientists with all the needed information, so for now we can not really determine what type of animal the footprints might have belonged to. It is uncertain if the organism belongs to the arthropod family, although the researchers believe it could be a bilaterian with paired feet.

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.

Life during the Ediacaran was characterized by algae, lichens, giant protozoans, worms, and various bacteria, but there's still a lot that paleontologists don't know about it.

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"We explicitly stated in the paper that 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", Xiao added.

Animals use their appendages or outgrowths to move around, make their homes, feed, and find mates.

The burrows were found in the Ediacaran Shibantan Member of the Dengying Formation (551 to 541 million years ago) in the Yangtze Gorges area of South China, and the trackway patterns suggested that they were left by species with paired appendages.

That's largely because Ediacaran life hadn't yet evolved the kinds of hard bones and shells that fossilize easily, so scientists usually have to rely on trace fossils instead - burrows, tracks and other secondary evidence of their existence.

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They took a close look at the irregular trackways and witnessed two parallel rows of footprints, which appeared to have been arranged in a series or repeated groups.

The research was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances by scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Virginia Tech. "Arthropods and annelids, or their ancestors, are possibilities".

The fossil tracks offer "some of the earliest known evidence for animal appendages and extend the earliest trace fossil record of animals with appendages from the early Cambrian (485 million to 541 million years ago) to the late Ediacaran Period". This means that the mystery animal might have periodically dug into the ocean floor's sediments and microbial matts, possibly to mine for oxygen and food, the researchers said.

It's possible that the bodies were never actually preserved.

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