WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- A set of 313-million-year-old animal tracks was discovered in the Grand Canyon.
- These are the oldest fossil tracks found in the national park.
- Researchers say the pattern of the footprints is one of the earliest pieces of evidence of vertebrate animals using a lateral-sequence walk pattern.
The Grand Canyon is an expanse of red rock where various fossils and preserved remains can be found in the array of rock formations. So, it isn’t unusual to find fossil footprints there. A visiting geology professor from Norway, Allan Krill, discovered a set of fossil footprints that are around 313 million years old- making them the oldest tracks found at the national park.
The visiting professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) spotted the tracks during a hike with his students in 2016. Krill took a photo and sent it to Stephen Rowland, a paleontologist at UNLV. The discovery was documented in a paper published by Rowland and several colleagues in the PLOS One journal.
In a statement, Rowland said that they are “among the oldest tracks on Earth of shelled-egg-laying animals… and the earliest evidence of vertebrate animals walking sand dunes.”
The footprints showed a pattern of a gait that scientists didn’t know was present in early animals. The tracks, showing two separate animals walking on a sand dune, presented a lateral-sequence walk pattern. This gait involves the front and rear leg of one side of an animal moving in unison before those legs on the opposite side move together. This gait is common in dogs and cats when they walk slowly.
“The Bright Angel Trail tracks document the use of this gait very early in the history of vertebrate animals. We previously had no information about that.”
The collapse of a cliff exposed the tracks, making them clear to see alongside a trail. They seemed to have gone unnoticed until an intrigued Krill brought it to the attention of geologists.