Published: Fri, June 08, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

World's Oldest Footprints Discovered on Ancient Seafloor

But what about Earth - when did animals first leave footprints here?

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

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

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

The trackways were found in the Yangtze Gorges area of South China.

An worldwide 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.

In other words, this prehistoric critter wasn't a biped like you or me, but perhaps something with multiple paired legs - such as a spider, or a centipede - although given we have so little to go upon, the researchers emphasise it's impossible to know for sure what specific form this early walker embodied. That's hundreds of millions of years before dinosaurs started roaming Earth, about 245 million years ago.

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It is unclear what kind of tiny creature left the tracks, which lie just a few millimetres apart and look like a two rows of shallow depressions, or holes, marked in the dark grey limestone. As the Inquisitr previously reported, up until that historic event, which lasted for 20-25 million years and gave rise to most of the major animal groups on the planet, animal life on Earth was limited to simpler, single-celled or multicellular organisms.

The shape of the tracks suggest they were made by bilaterian animals with pairs of legs and a raised body.

"At least three living groups of animals have paired appendages (represented by arthropods such as bumble bees, annelids such as bristle worms, and tetrapods such as humans)". They are often assumed to have appeared and radiated suddenly during the "Cambrian Explosion" about 541-510 million years ago, although it has always been suspected that their evolutionary ancestry was rooted in the Ediacaran Period.

"Animals use their appendages to move around, to build their homes, to fight, to feed, and sometimes to help mate", Virginia Tech University geobiologist and lead study author Shuhai Xiao told the Guardian.

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

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

"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. The trackways also appear to be connected to burrows, suggesting the creatures periodically tunnelled down into the sediments, perhaps to mine oxygen and microbes as food.

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