Grand Canyon’s oldest vertebrate tracks discovered in fallen boulder

Nearly six million visitors pass through the Grand Canyon each year, but researchers recently discovered footprints very different from those of the usual hiker. Allan Krill, a visiting professor from Norway, discovered a pair of fossil footprints that date back 313 million years.

The footprints, which appear to be those of two animals passing at different times along the slope of a sand dune, were initially discovered in 2016 after the boulder that contained them collapsed onto a hiking trail. Research analyzing the prints, dubbed “The Bright Angel Trail tracks”, was published last week in the PLOS One journal.

Source: PLOS One

Collaborating with Stephen Rowland, a paleontologist at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, the pair identified what Rowland calls, “by far the oldest vertebrate tracks in Grand Canyon.”

The prints show the distinct gait of ancient tetrapods. Called a “lateral sequence walk,” the gait indicates the prints belong to shelled-egg-laying animals, such as reptiles, and are the earliest evidence of vertebrate animals walking in sand dunes. This gait resembles the walk of modern-day tetrapods like dogs and cats.

This new evidence teaches us about life at one of our favorite National Parks long before humans reached it and how it evolved into the beautiful ecosystem it is today.

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