310-MIL­LION-YEAR-OLD FOOT­PRINTS LEFT BY ‘LINE-DANC­ING’ REP­TILE-LIKE CREA­TURE DIS­COV­ERED IN THE GRAND CANYON

Focus-Science and Technology - - DISCOVERIES -

Cot­ton Eye Joe hasn’t got any­thing on this guy: a set of foot­prints left by a sidestep­ping rep­tile-like crea­ture have been dis­cov­ered cov­er­ing a fallen boul­der along the Bright An­gel Trail in the Grand Canyon, Ari­zona.

The tracks were first dis­cov­ered in 2016 by a group of hik­ers, who then alerted Prof Stephen Row­land, a ge­ol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Ne­vada. The tracks are es­ti­mated to be around 310 mil­lion years old, and date back to a time when the su­per­con­ti­nent Pan­gaea was be­ing formed, mak­ing them the old­est ever found in the Grand Canyon.

“My first im­pres­sion was that it looked very bizarre be­cause of the side­ways mo­tion,” said Row­land. “It ap­peared that two an­i­mals were walk­ing side by side. But you wouldn’t ex­pect two lizard-like an­i­mals to be walk­ing side by side. It didn’t make any sense.” Af­ter study­ing the tracks fur­ther and mak­ing a set of de­tailed draw­ings, Row­land came to the con­clu­sion that the an­i­mal was mov­ing with a ‘pe­cu­liar, line-danc­ing gait’. “One rea­son I’ve pro­posed is that the an­i­mal was walk­ing in a very strong wind, and the wind was blow­ing it side­ways,” he said.

At time of writ­ing, it is not yet known what species the foot­prints be­longed to – and the an­i­mal in ques­tion could well be one that has never been dis­cov­ered be­fore. “It ab­so­lutely could be that who­ever was the track­maker, his or her bones have never been recorded,” said Row­land.

Row­land is now ar­gu­ing for the Bright An­gel boul­der to be placed in the ge­ol­ogy mu­seum at the Grand Canyon Na­tional Park, for both sci­en­tific and in­ter­pre­ta­tive pur­poses.

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