Oldest Ever Fossil Tracks Discovered in the Grand Canyon

The tracks are about 313 million years old.
Loukia Papadopoulos
The photo credit line may appear like thisNational Park Service

Researchers have just discovered that fossils tracks first spotted in 2016 within the Grand Canyon National Park are the oldest recorded tracks of their kind to date. The tracks were found by Norwegian geology professor Allan Krill when hiking with his students.


The tracks were not hidden, in fact, they were lying next to the Bright Angel Trail, a hiking trail, in plain view for all to see. To confirm how old they were, Krill enlisted the help of Stephen Rowland, a paleontologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“These are by far the oldest vertebrate tracks in Grand Canyon, which is known for its abundant fossil tracks," Rowland said in a statement. "More significantly, they are among the oldest shelled-egg-laying-animal tracks on Earth, such as reptiles, and the earliest evidence of vertebrate animals walking in sand dunes."

The researchers were able to pinpoint the age of the tracks to 313 ±0. 5 million years. The tracks showcase the path of two animals on the slope of a sand dune. The arrangement of the footprints allowed the researchers to reconstruct the animal’s footfall sequence.

What they discovered was a gait called a lateral-sequence walk. This is when the legs on one side of the animal move in succession. The front and back legs follow each other alternating with the movement of the legs on the opposite side. This is similar to how dogs and cats walk today and it's an entirely new discovery for the researchers.

“Living species of tetrapods―dogs and cats, for example―routinely use a lateral-sequence gait when they walk slowly,” said Rowland. “The Bright Angel Trail tracks document the use of this gait very early in the history of vertebrate animals. We previously had no information about that.” 

What other fossilized wonders might the Grand Canyon hold?


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