The latest discovery of fossilized footprints made by four-legged vertebrates overthrows the evolutionary model for how land animals first emerged, says a biochemist.
"This is a huge discovery," said Dr. Fuz Rana of Reasons to Believe, a science-faith think tank. "[It's] another example of supposedly a well-established evolutionary story, that has presumable fossil evidence to support it, that is now blown out of the water by a single find."
Paleontologists from Poland and Sweden discovered dozens of 397-million-year-old fossil footprints in the Holy Cross Mountains of southeastern Poland, as revealed in the January 7 issue of the journal Nature. The prints were made by tetrapods, which are vertebrate animals with four limbs.
Grzegorz Pienkowski, a paleontologist at Warsaw University, told National Geographic that they are the oldest tetrapod tracks and the oldest evidence of true tetrapods.
What's significant about the discovery is the age of the tracks. While evolutionists have firmly held that tetrapods appeared about 375 million years ago after transitional forms between fishes and land animals appeared 385 million years ago, the latest discovery places tetrapods in existence even before the transitional animals.
"The finds suggests that the elpistostegids (transitional forms) that we know were late-surviving relics rather than direct transitional forms, and they highlight just how little we know of the earliest history of land vertebrates," the journal's editor writes.
Per Ahlberg, a paleontologist at Uppsala University in Sweden, who led the new research, told CNN, "In the course of a single afternoon I found myself revising the entire understanding I had of my own research."
Rana believes the find basically throws a "monkey wrench" into the long-held evolutionary model.
"Transitional forms are appearing in the fossil record after the appearance of the forms that they presumably evolved into and that simply doesn't make any sense," Rana said. "You have to take fossil record at face value. Evidence has to match the story."
"At this point there's no evolutionary explanation in my mind for how land animals appeared," he added. "People who are skeptics of the evolutionary paradigm are even more justifiable in their skepticism today than they were yesterday because of this particular discovery."
Suspicions against the evolutionary model of the appearance of land animals existed even before the discovery of the tracks in Poland, Rana said. For one, the transition from lobe-finned fish – the transitional forms – to true tetrapods is documented to have happened in a time window of only about 10 million years, which is "incredibly rapid to go from a totally aquatic animal to one that would be able to live on land," Rana argues.
Additionally, the footprints of the tetrapod in Poland were produced in a coastal environment, not a freshwater one, as previously understood and accepted.
Rana expects scientists to now scour for fossils of the animals that made the footprints.
In the meantime, Rana offers, "It's going to be hard in my opinion to really assail this discovery as being anything other than what it really is right now ... and that is a paradigm buster."