First footprints of animals discovered in China

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An worldwide team of scientists found that the fossil of an animal appendage dates back to the Ediacaran period, sometime between 541 and 635 million years ago.

Created before the Cambrian Explosion-a sudden burst in animal diversity that took place about 541 million years ago-scientists think these are the oldest trackways ever discovered on Earth.

A staff member of the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences displays the animal fossil footprints, which were made in the Ediacaran Period, June 6, 2018.

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

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This means that the symmetrical creature appeared before the Cambrian Period, Chen noted.

This suggests that whatever made the prints (scientists still aren't sure what animal they belong to) probably survived by digging into the seafloor to find food and consume oxygen. Precisely what the creature looked like is a mystery, though: nothing this old with legs has been discovered to date.

Bilaterian animals such as arthropods and annelids have paired appendages and are among the most diverse animals today and in the geological past.

However, until now, no records of such fossils were ever found. Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, together with colleagues from Virginia Tech in the United States, studied the trackways and burrows that were discovered in a fossil-rich area close to the Yangtze River.

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"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".

They analysed the trackways in rock, usually created when an animal's weight causes a depression in the ground which is later filled in by a different sediment.

Researchers do not know what animals made the footprints but have interpreted the two parallel rows of dots as rows of tracks. That's hundreds of millions of years before dinosaurs started roaming Earth, about 245 million years ago.

He also said that arthropods and annelids or their ancestors are possible. No fossils has been found in the fossil record, and the odds are it never will be found - it was a stroke of luck that the tracks were even preserved.

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Trackways and burrows excavated in situ from the Ediacaran Dengying Formation.

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