The research by a Chinese team appears in Science Advances journal.
"Ediacaran trace fossils provide key paleontological evidence for the evolution of early animals and their behaviors", researchers write in their study. Precisely what the creature looked like is a mystery, though: nothing this old with legs has been discovered to date.
Still, due to the proximity of the track marks to fossilised burrows discovered nearby, the researchers hypothesise the creature may have exhibited "complex behaviour", such as periodically digging into sediments to mine oxygen and food among its riverbed habitat. While scientists are not sure exactly which beast made the footprints, the fossils have been estimated to be around 551 million years old.
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This remarkable discovery is hailed in a study, published yesterday in the journal Science Advances by a research team from Virginia Tech University in the USA and the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology (NIGP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
According to the team, the animal appeared to have paused time to time as the footprints were connected to burrows.
"If an animal makes footprints, the footprints are depressions on the sediment surface, and the depressions are filled with sediments from the overlying layer", Shuhai Xiao told the Independent while speaking of the finding.
Bilaterian animals such as arthropods and annelids have paired appendages and are among the most diverse animals today and in the geological past, said researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in the US.
Now, the discovery of the trackways and burrows shows that animals with appendages lived during the Ediacaran period, the researchers said.
"Arthropods and annelids, or their ancestors, are possibilities". The footprints are organized in two parallel rows, as expected if animals made them with paired appendages. No fossils has been found in the fossil record, and the odds are it never will be found - it was a stroke of luck that the tracks were even preserved.