Scientists discover oldest footprints on Earth

(CNN) -- Scientists have found the oldest fossilized footprints made by a four-legged creature forcing a rethink on when fish first crawled out of water and onto land.

The discovery of the footprints in a former quarry in the Holy Cross Mountains in south-eastern Poland are thought to be 395-million years old -- 18 million years older than the earliest tetrapod (a vertebrate with limbs rather than fins) body fossils.

The report published Thursday in the science journal Nature says the footprints of the tetrapod measure up to 26 (10 inches) centimeters wide, which scientists say is indicative of an animal around 2.5 (7.5 feet) meters in length.

The footprints are also 10 million years earlier than the oldest known elpistostegids -- creatures which displayed some animal characteristics but retained fins.

Philippe Janvier from the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, and reviewer of the paper told CNN: "It is a really stunning discovery because it's the earliest evidence we have of tetrapods. These footprints are clear enough to attest that tetrapods were there 395 millions years ago."

The report's authors say their findings "force a radical reassessment of the timing, ecology and environmental setting of the fish-tetrapod transition, as well as the completeness of the body fossil record."...MORE...

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