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Oldest Birds' Footprints Found; Proof that Bird and Dinosaur Commingled

Update Date: Oct 28, 2013 08:13 PM EDT
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Paleontologists stumbled upon a discovery which proves that birds lived alongside dinosaurs, about 100 million years in the past. In a slab of rock recovered from the cliffs of Dinosaur Cove, a fossil-rich area on the coast of southern Victoria near Melbourne in Australia, scientists found what is now considered the oldest bird footprints - dating back from Early Cretaceous period.

The finding is significant because it has forced scientists to adjust their understanding of the early birds evolution.

"These tracks are evidence that we had sizable, flying birds living alongside other kinds of dinosaurs on these polar, river floodplains, about 105 million years ago," said in a statement, Anthony Martin, a paleontologist at Emory University in Atlanta.

"The picture of early bird evolution in the Southern Hemisphere is mostly incomplete ... but with these tracks, it just got a little better."

The discovery, made by the work of volunteers, came to light when researchers found a long drag mark made by a rear toe leading up to one of the bird's footprints, indicating the imprints had been left by a creature that could fly.

"I immediately knew what it was -- a flight landing track -- because I've seen many similar tracks made by egrets and herons on the sandy beaches of Georgia," Martin said.

According to reports advanced by Discovery News, the birds in question were roughly the size of a great egret or a small heron.

The theory behind the making of the footprints points that it might have occurred when the birds set down on the moist sand of an ancient river bank, whose waters formed the rocky coastal strata observed at Dinosaur Cove today. A great rift valley formed there as Australia separated from Antarctica 104 million years ago, when both made up a supercontinent called Gondwana.

According to Live Science the birds' footprints were discovered next to that of a non-avian theropod, the group of dinosaurs closely related to birds that includes the infamous T-rex. All three of the footprints were found in just one square foot of sandstone.

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