Animal tracks at Grand Canyon National Park may not typically be something to write home about, but a recent discovery embedded in a fallen rock may offer clues to what life was like on Earth millions of years ago.
According to the Associated Press, researchers at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, have published a report about fossil footprints in a rock that they found near a hiking trail in the Grand Canyon.
A research paper published last month by the team details that the footprints could date back 313 million years and are some of the oldest tracks left (presumably) by animals who lay eggs on the planet. While there is some discussion over whether or not the tracks were actually left by an egg-laying animal, such a discovery would reveal the earliest examples of these animals walking on sand dunes, according to the Associated Press. If anything, they could show scientists an evolutionary point in time when animals could lay eggs outside of the water, according to the research paper.
“Some of the conclusions likely are going to be controversial,” said Mark Nebel, paleontology program manager at the Grand Canyon, in a statement, according to the Associated Press. “There’s a lot of disagreement in the scientific community about interpreting tracks, interpreting the age of rocks, especially interpreting what kind of animal made these tracks,”
The reason why researchers estimate that the tracks were left by some egg-laying animals is because of distinct claw marks left in the rock that are common amongst modern-day reptiles, according to the Associated Press. Similar tracks have also been found on other types of terrain on the planet.
“I think our interpretations will hold up very well,” said Steve Rowland, professor emeritus of geology, to the Associated Press.
Currently, the rock still sits near the Bright Angel hiking trail, but scientists are coming up with ways to possibly mark it on the trail or transport it to a facility or museum for further study.
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