“the first evidence we have of an animal with legs and digits walking on land at that time”

This month’s Nature’s cover story of the discovery in southeast Poland of “a trackway and an isolated footprint that were made by early four-legged land vertebrates (tetrapods) almost 400 million years ago” – 18 million years older than the earliest known tetrapod body fossils, and 10 million years older than the oldest elpistostegids – prompts The Guardian’s Adam Rutherford to celebrate “the intellectual freedom of pure research that led them to this awesome discovery.” Which may be a bit of a stretch… The BBC report provides some of the detail from the Nature story. An earlier Guardian article adds

Ahlberg and his co-authors, mainly from the Polish Geological Institute in Warsaw, say their findings highlight how little we know of the earliest history of land vertebrates. They write that the prints “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”.

And from the NatureVideoChannel
The BBC report also has some graphics from Nature.

The trackway and analysis

397 million years old fossil footprints

And a detailed footprint

397 million-year-old fossil footprint

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  • Peter Fyfe

    Does this mean we all come from lizard like creatures? It explains our politicians anyway

  • Fabianus


    It’s a wonderful step on our way towards understanding where we came from, and I’ve followed it in several sources. (Thinks: How does the Garden of Eden fit into all this?)

    Ever so slightly off topic, but I’m not apologising. I watched an incredible programme last night on BBC 2, “Horizon: The Secret Life of Dogs”.

    It just about blew me away. It concluded that foxes rather than wolves are closer to the domestic dog, and that by studying the DNA of boxers (the dogs!) we could eradicate certain human diseases. Riveting stuff.

    The star of the show was an Austrian border collie called Betsy, who could actually connect two-dimensional images with their 3D counterparts, and could recognise hundreds of words! The programme demonstrated that chimpanzees lag far behind dogs in such matters. News to me.

    Here’s the Betsy story.

    Harold Robbins eat your heart out.

  • Garza

    Great find!

    This specimen seems to have 6 digits on its hand which means its not an ancestor of us or any land vertebrate.

    All land vertebrates left today have 5 digits even whales and snakes. They arr descended from a creature like this only with five digits.

  • villager

    Fab, that program concluded that domestic dogs are wholly descended from the gray wolf, definitely not foxes, hyenas, etc although it showed that foxes could be tamed by selective breeding.

    Richard Dawkins’ last book mentions all of this in more detail, it’s a great read.

  • willis

    Did anyone else who watched the treatment of this story on BBC News wish for a red button marked “This story for adults?”

  • Clanky

    willis wrote:

    Did anyone else who watched the treatment of this story on BBC News wish for a red button marked “This story for adults?”

    This and just about every other science / technology story on the BBC for the last 5 years. Unfortunately, rather than seeing themselves as a tool to raise the standard of public awareness of these issues the media as a whole have lowered themselves to the level of the lowest common denominator in a bid to increase ratings, with the affect that most news programs are now pitched at the level of John Craven’s Newsround as was and most science and technology stories are so dumbed down as to be almost meaningless in terms of content to anyone with any scientific knowledge.

    While there is certainly a place for “basic” news coverage, that place should not be the BBC.

    On the subject in hand, I wonder if this will have any influence on the “World is 6,000 years old because my interpretation of the bible says so” crowd, sadly, I fear not.

  • Greenflag

    clanky ,

    ‘I wonder if this will have any influence on the

    “World is 6,000 years old because my interpretation of the bible says so” crowd,’

    Not everybody has a BSc or is even interested in paleontology so full marks to the BBC . I must admit learning at least something from this piece . Up to now I’ve been a believer in the theory that the reason that sea animals came on to the land was due to the evolution of sharks at a time when the earth was just one continent surrounded by a world ocean . The rationale being that such an environment provided little escape for those shallow water creatures being preyed upon by said ancestors of the shark, and thus were spurred to flee to the land . This video showed another strategy i.e sea creatures emerging to feed on life left behind by fast ebbing ocean waves ?

    Thanks to Pete for keeping us updated with the other end of the cosmos .

    Dogs iirc were domesticated some 10,000 years ago but their evolution into so many different breeds has been largely a man made development . Humanity has shaped the dog just as we have shaped other domestic species including you guessed it ourselves .

    Just take a look at the current environment and the obese overweight fatties emerging corpulent and red faced from your nearest fast food emporium or chippy ? How can one not believe in evolution ?

  • Driftwood

    The Horizon documentary pointed to molecular genetics showing our relationship with dogs goes back much further than 10,000 years.

    The Nature article is an excellent example of how fresh evidence challenges the contempoary viewpoint while underpinning the fact of evolution.

  • Greenflag

    Driftwood ,

    I was guesstimating . Wiki’s explanation hereunder seems not far from the truth

    “The bulk of the scientific evidence for the evolution of the domestic dog stems from archaeological findings and mitochondrial DNA studies. The divergence date of roughly 15000 years ago is based in part on archaeological evidence that demonstrates that the domestication of dogs occurred more than 15,000 years ago,[3][18] and some genetic evidence indicates that the domestication of dogs from their wolf ancestors began in the late Upper Paleolithic close to the Pleistocene/Holocene boundary, between 17,000 and 14,000 years ago.[22] But there is a wide range of other, contradictory findings that make this issue controversial.”

    end of

    At the molecular genetic level our relationship with all mammals goes back some 150 million years when our mammalian ‘ancestor’ kept a low profile while dinosaurs ruled the roost .

    The dog became domesticated probably around the time that homo sapiens started to live in semi permanent settlements for at least some of the year .

  • willis


    Yes but the video is not done by the BBC but by Nature. The BBC online piece was good too but the bit on the News was awful!

    At last the Trust may be doing something.