Animal footprints dating back 541 million years have been discovered in China, making them the oldest on the planet, according to a study published Wednesday, June 6, 2018 in the American journal Science Advances. They are only a few millimeters apart, and look like two rows of small holes.
“These are the oldest fossilized footprints ever discovered,” says the study. They have been found in the Yangtze Gorge in southern China. “The rocks containing the fossil have been very well dated between 551 and 541 million years,” said researcher Zhe Chen of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Previously, the oldest known footprints were dated back to 530-540 million years ago.
The creature unfortunately could not be identified because it did not die near its footprints, and no corresponding fossils were found. The only thing scientists can come up with is that it was “bilaterally symmetric,” according to Zhe Chen. Perhaps it is an ancestor of arthropods or tetrapods.
Bilaterians represent almost all animals whose development is marked by forward / backward symmetry or right / left, worms to mammals. They appeared during the Ediacaran, a period in Earth’s history that stretches from 635 to 541 million years ago. Its name refers to the Ediacara Hills, where fossils of the earliest animals on Earth, dating back to a little less than 600 million years ago, were found.