Fossil Footprints Show Animals Adventured Onto Land Earlier Than Thought

By Brett Israel | January 6, 2010 6:58 pm

tetrapod-fossil-footprint-wScientists are pushing back the date that the first land-walkers stepped foot on solid ground. Thanks to the discovery of prehistoric footprints from an 8-foot-long animal, scientists now say creatures strolled the Earth 20 million years earlier than previously thought. The prints were made by tetrapods—animals with backbones and four limbs—and could rewrite the history of when, where, and why fish evolved limbs and first walked onto land, the study says [National Geographic News]. The researchers published their results in the journal Nature.

Dozens of the fossilized footprints were found in an abandoned quarry in Poland, and the researchers say that the area was probably a lagoon or an intertidal flat when the tetrapod wandered across it about 395 million years ago. Researchers say the footprints in such old rock was a big surprise: They’re about 10 million years older than body fossils of creatures such as Tiktaalik and Panderichthys, … believed to represent the transition from lobe-finned fish to creatures fully adapted to life on land [Science News].

The tracks were made by several four-limbed creatures sporting prehistoric toes. There are distinct “hand” and “foot” prints, with no evidence of a dragging body or tail, because the animals’ body weight would have been partly supported by water [Guardian]. The results highlight how little scientists really know about the early history of land vertebrates, the researchers say, and the find pushes back the evolutionary fork where tetrapods split from fish. The discovery will force scientists to reexamine what they know about water-to-land transition during vertebrate evolution, say the study’s authors.

Related Content:
80beats: Early Mini-Whale Slurped up Mud to Find Hidden Prey
80beats: In Galapagos Finches, Biologists Catch Evolution in the Act
80beats: New Fossil Suggests Dinosaur World Domination Started in S. America

Image: Per Ahlberg et al.

  • bigjohn756

    Cue the creationists.

  • AJ

    @ bigjohn756
    haha so true…

  • Zachary

    See, “Darwinists” were incorrect about a random specific, therefor Jesus is Lord!!!

  • Timothy george

    In school my teacher had pictures of footprints next to dinosaur tracks in rock. Man walked next to dinosaurs and theres fossils and everything. Its a fact because its in rock and God said in the bible.

  • Daniel J. Andrews

    Timothy…those were probably the Paluxy River footprints. I think creationists have retracted that claim now and agree these were dinosaur prints (I’m sure you can still find some small group still clinging to the idea they’re human footprints though).

    Wonder how this Poland discovery will stand up. I’d be interested in hearing Neil Shubin’s thoughts on it, and how this might affect some of the ideas gained from Tiktaalik.

    Carl, if the next issue of Nature has some editorial comments/letters on the subject, could you summarize them for people who don’t have access to the journal–e.g.. me, starting this semester? Thanks.

  • Daniel J. Andrews

    Oops. Sorry. I meant Brett, not Carl (thought I was on The Loom).

  • carmen

    395 million years ago ????? I thought the earth was onely 6000 years old I want my money back…

  • Zachary

    Your tithe money?


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