An international team of scientists have discovered what they claim is the earliest animal fossil footprint on record. The tracks were created in mud up to 551 million years ago somewhere in the mountainous Yangtze Gorges, by the Yangtze River in southern China.
That timeline would place the tracks in the Edicaran Period, making them the first animal prints found from that time in history. Edicaran fossils are typically soft bodied tubes and frond-shaped organisms known as biota. The era was so long ago that many rocks from the time period into new forms. South China is one of the world's leading .
The Edicaran Period was the Earth's last before what's known as the Cambrian Explosion, when the amount of life on the planet radically increased and diversified. However, the scientists say in a press release, these new Edicaran-dated footprints "bilaterian animals with paired appendages that raised the animal body above the water-sediment interface." The teams consisted of Chinese Academy of Sciences’Institute of Geology and Paleontology alongside colleagues from .
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 could have been looking for food or even oxygen, which was at a premium before the Cambrian explosion.
Without a complete fossil record though, any presumptions about the animal's habits or needs are pure speculation. The body fossils of this animal have not been found and might not ever be discovered.
Fossils from the Edicaran Period have so frustrated scientists that they have taken to reverse engineering them in order to gain a better understanding of their composition.