Study: Fossilized animal tracks found in Grand Canyon predate dinosaurs

Scientists believe ancient fossilized tracks (left) found on a boulder in the Grand Canyon belong to primitive animals with both amphibian and reptilian characteristics. An artist's interpretation of this class of animals may have looked like appears at right. Images: National Park Service

GRAND CANYON, Ariz., May 25, 2019 (Gephardt Daily) — New research on primitive animal footprints found on a sandstone boulder in Grand Canyon National Park have been determined to predate the earliest dinosaurs.

The fossilized tracks, first found in 1918, have been determined to be roughly 280 million years old, dating from the early Permian Period.

Brazilian paleontologist Heitor Francischini, from the Laboratory of Vertebrate Paleontology, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, is the lead author of the new publication, working with scientists from Germany and the United States.

Study scientists first examined the tracks in 2017.

“The paleontologists immediately recognized the fossil tracks were produced by a long-extinct relative of very early reptiles and were similar to tracks known from Europe referred to as Ichniotherium (ICK-nee-oh-thay-ree-um),” a National Park Service statement says.

The fossil prints date from a period when the modern park was a desert environment. The prints are the first known evidence of Ichniotherium presence in a desert environment, the statement says.

“These tracks represent the geologically youngest record of this fossil track type from anywhere in the world. The Ichniotherium footprint is believed to have been made by an enigmatic group of extinct tetrapods known as diadectomorphs, a primitive group that possessed characteristics of both amphibians and reptiles. The evolutionary relationships and paleobiology of diadectomorphs have long been important and unresolved questions in the science of vertebrate paleontology.”

“Although the actual track maker for the Grand Canyon footprints may never be known, the Grand Canyon trackways preserve the travel of a very early terrestrial vertebrate. The measurable characteristics of the tracks and trackways indicate a primitive animal with short legs and a massive body. The creature walked on all four legs and each foot possessed five clawless digits.”

Francischini wrote in the study that the find’s location was unexpected.

“The diadectomorphs were not expected to live in an arid desert environment, because they supposedly did not have the classic adaptations for being completely independent of water.”

To read more on on the findings, click here.


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