THE oldest known record of amphibian tracks in the UK has been discovered in a sandstone fossil.
New research has revealed an ancient trackway, found imprinted on a block from the base of Hardraw Force Waterfall in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire — dating back 340million years.
The tracks belong to the earliest relatives of modern amphibians, called temnospondyls, specifically the edopoids, or ‘glutton-faced animals’.
In order to see it in further detail, the trace fossil, currently on display at the Natural History Museum in London, was 3D scanned.
This was done in a research project by a previous undergraduate from the University of Birmingham, Hannah Bird.
She said: ‘We used scanning and photography to make a 3D digital model, allowing us to better visualise and identify the footprints and invertebrate traces.
‘Determining whether individual prints were made by hands or feet, as well as the direction of movement, certainly proved troublesome at times but we were finally able to reconstruct how this amphibian might have moved in life.’
At least two metres in length, edopoids were crocodile-like creatures.
Researchers say they walked across the sandy bed of river delta along with contemporary invertebrate animals including arthropods, worms and molluscs.
Scientists say the paper, published in the Journal of the Geological Society, presents a rare insight into the early Carboniferous period and tetrapod diversification in the UK, as well as how temnospondyls spread across Euramerica.
Scientific associate of the Natural History Museum, Angela Milner, said: ‘Although this specimen has been in the Natural History Museum’s collection for a long time, modern 3D scanning techniques have revealed a wealth of detail that was almost impossible to see on the original tracks.’