Ancient fossil trackways show evidence of raptor-prey attack in Pleistocene Europe

These trace fossils are from Europe's Late Pleistocene period between 129,000 to 11,700 years ago. 
Mrigakshi Dixit
Ancient fossil tracks in stone
Ancient fossil tracks in stone


Archeologists in Europe have uncovered trace fossil evidence of a raptor bird preying on another animal, as per a report.

These trace fossils are from Europe's Late Pleistocene period between 129,000 to 11,700 years ago. 

The newly identified trace fossil, also known as ichnotaxa, was discovered in aeolianite sandstones from the Malhao Formation on the Portuguese island of Pessegueiro.

The fine features retained in trace fossils can give insight into the species' thousands of years old movement activities, such as sprinting, hunting, scuffling, and even resting. 

What the trace fossil showcase

In this coastal area, the ichnofossils were discovered preserved on the surface between rock strata. 

Researchers from the Naturtejo da Meseta Meridional UNESCO Global Geopark identified two new forms of fossil trackways: Corvidichnus odemirensis and Buboichnus vicentinus. 

The first trace fossil form was carved by the movement of a Western jackdaw (Corvus monedula). And the second type is attributed to an Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo).

The second is said to be evidence of a raptor bird preying on another animal. Using modern technologies such as 3D models, the team was able to understand the different footprint patterns. 

They constructed 3D digital representations of the trace fossils site using hundreds of images – a method known as photogrammetry. 

They were able to determine the size of individual imprints, finger length, and divergence of each foot in this manner. All of this gives useful information for interpreting locomotion style.

The study emphasizes the necessity of examining fossil trackways, which can give valuable insights into ancient animals' behavior that bones or other remnants may not show.

Apart from bird traces, the team also found evidence of straight-tusked elephants, rabbits, red deer, foxes, and Iberian lynx. 

The study results have been published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.

Study abstract:

Avian traces occurring in Pleistocene aeolianite and beach deposits are rare and relatively poorly known, despite being good paleoenvironmental indicators. Passeriform and raptorial birds are especially rare in the track fossil record. Exceptional tracksites were found in the Malhão formation, a Pleistocene coastal aeolianite unit from the SW mainland Portugal, with subunits in the interval ∼187 to ∼27 ka. Two new forms of avian traces were identified, Corvidichnus odemirensis and Buboichnus vicentinus - attributed to the locomotion of Western jackdaw and the locomotion and predation/feeding behaviour of a large Eagle-owl. The last trace fossil may correspond to the first evidence of a raptorial bird-prey interaction found in action in the fossil record. Typical shorebird tracks and trackways attributed to gulls (Laridae) and curlews, and others tentatively compared with Rallidae, such as Eurasian coot, are also discussed within the aeolianite ichnoassemblages. The tracks here described are the first avian ichnotaxa from the Pleistocene of Europe.