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World's Oldest Footprints Discovered on Ancient Seafloor

09 June 2018

Previously, scientists had discovered footprints as old as 530-540m years, but none predating the Cambrian period, which also began at this time and marked an explosion in the diversity and complexity of life on Earth.

An global team of researchers is claiming to have discovered the world's oldest footprints. 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. That leaves a mystery about what kind of animal left the tracks.

Scientists in China believe tracks left by tiny animals that crawled in sea-shore mud around 550 million years ago are the oldest footprints on Earth.

"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.

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Researchers do not know what animals made the footprints but have interpreted the two parallel rows of dots as rows of tracks.

For the new study, researchers from Virginia Tech and the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology (NIGP) looked at trackways and burrows excavated from the Ediacaran Dengying Formation in the Yangtze Gorges area in South China, which are between 551 and 541 million years old. In fact, the China discovery represents one of the earliest known records of animals evolving appendages.

The Cambrian Period occurred between 541m and 488m years ago and is considered an important point in the history of life as many major groups of animals still alive today first appeared during the period.

"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.

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The research by a Chinese team appears in Science Advances journal.

This means it may have been a burrowing creature.

The scientists weren't able to locate the body fossils of the animals that made these traces.

According to the authors of the study, the newly discovered footprints show "bilaterian animals with paired appendages that raised the animal body above the water-sediment interface".

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The trackways indicate a connection to burrowing, suggesting that whatever animal this was might have had a habit of digging into sediments and microbial mats. It was after this point that arthropods (jointed limb insects like roaches and spiders) and annelids (ringed worms) completely took over the planet. The fossil of the animal has not been found or maybe it never got preserved.