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Oldest fossil footprints on Earth discovered in China

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The 550-million-year-old tracks measure only a few millimetres in width, and consist of two rows of imprints arranged in what the researchers describe as a "poorly organised series or repeated groups", which could be due to variations in gait, pace, or interactions with the surface of what was once an ancient riverbed.

The oldest footprints left by an animal have been recently uncovered in southern China.

"The characteristics of the trackways indicate that they were produced by bilaterian animals with paired appendages that raised the animal body above the water-sediment interface".

For comparison, non-bilateral animals include sponges, corals, jellyfish, and anemones.

A group of animal footprint fossils thought to be more than 541 million years old has been found in central China's Hubei Province, the US-based scientific journal Science Advances said on Wednesday.

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.

The authors can't tell exactly what kind of animal made the tracks, but they can narrow it down to something with pairs of matching legs.

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

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

The tracks are actually older than any fossil of a creature with legs, so scientists are puzzled by what created the footprints.

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 members of the research team can't figure out whether the animal has two or more legs but they assume that the footprints may belong to a bilaterian- animals characterized by having paired legs.

"Ediacaran trace fossils provide key paleontological evidence for the evolution of early animals and their behaviors", researchers write in their study. Among other things, it is also worth noting the trackways appear connected to the burrows, something that indicated the animals probably dug into the sediments in order to consume food or oxygen.

"Arthropods and annelids, or their ancestors, are possibilities". It is possible that such remains were never preserved.

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