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310-million-year-old 'line-dancing' footprints discovered © Stephen Rowland

310-million-year-old 'line-dancing' footprints discovered

Published: 08th January, 2019 at 08:00
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Carboniferous period footprints discovered in the Grand Canyon's Bright Angel Trail left by sidestepping reptile-like creature.

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.

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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.”

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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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Authors

Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.

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