Footprints in the Mud
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A new study on fossilized footprints suggested that the ancestors of modern birds roamed the planet more than 210 million years ago, earlier than previously thought, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
Previous research has shown that modern birds evolved from a group of carnivorous, bipedal dinosaurs that were able to survive the mass extinction event around 66 million years ago.
But when they exactly emerged remains a big mystery, Cosmos Magazine noted.
In their paper, paleontologists re-analyzed three-toed footprints found in various sites across the small African nation of Lesotho.
The prints date to the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic periods, with the researchers noting they are older than the earlier known fossils from ancestors of modern avian species, which are 150 to 160 million years old.
The researchers explained that the tracks belonged to Trisauropodiscus – a type of three-toed dinosaur whose fossils are present in other parts of southern Africa.
Examination of the footprints showed two distinct morphologies: One resembled non-avian dinosaur tracks, while the other was closely similar to birds.
However, the findings bring up more questions about the enigmatic Trisauropodiscus because scientists are still not clear how many species belong to the genus or what it looked like.
And their relationship with modern birds is still murky.
The authors added that footprints might have been created by an early dinosaur, possibly belonging to a lineage closely related to birds. Alternatively, there could have been another reptilian species that independently developed feet resembling those of present-day birds.