Published: Sat, June 09, 2018
Sci-tech | By April Francis

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

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

An worldwide team of researchers is claiming to have discovered the world's oldest footprints.

These trackways, preserved near burrows, were discovered in Dengying Formation - a rich fossil preserve in China's south - and constitute the first evidence confirming that an ancient group of animals called bilateria actually pre-dates the Cambrian explosion.

The scientists are unsure whether the creature had many legs or just two, and whether it was a member of the arthropod group, which includes bumblebees and spiders, or annelids, which contains modern-day bristle worms.

Yet the bilaterian that left behind the Earth's oldest footprints were spectacularly evolved for creatures living during the Ediacaran Period (about 635-541 million years ago), reveals the study.

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.

"Ediacaran trace fossils provide key paleontological evidence for the evolution of early animals and their behaviors", researchers write in their study.

The team from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Virginia Tech in the U.S. discovered two rows of imprints that are arranged in a series or repeated groups in irregular trackways and burrows.

The research was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances by scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Virginia Tech. They are one of the most diverse animal groups in existence today.

These legs raised the animal's body above the sediment it was moving across. "The footprints are organised in two parallel rows, as expected if they were made by animals with paired appendages", Xiao told the Independent.

"Previously identified footprints are between 540 and 530 million years old", Dr Zhe Chen from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology told MailOnline.

It also seems that the tracks are somehow connected to the burrows, suggesting that whichever animal this might have been, they had a tendency of digging into sediments and microbial mats, most probably in order to search for food and oxygen.

Bilaterians are one of the most common body types in the world, now and throughout history, but previous fossil evidence for them only goes back as far as the Cambrian.

The footprints were left by a very early bilaterian, a type of animal with bilateral symmetry (usually characterized by a head at the front, legs on either side, and a back portion at its rear).

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

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