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Bird-like fossil footprints from the Late Triassic

Naturevolume 417pages936938 (2002) | Download Citation


  • This article was retracted on 07 August 2013


The study of fossilized footprints and tracks of dinosaurs and other vertebrates has provided insight into the origin, evolution and extinction of several major groups and their behaviour; it has also been an important complement to their body fossil record1,2,3,4. The known history of birds starts in the Late Jurassic epoch (around 150 Myr ago) with the record of Archaeopteryx5, whereas the coelurosaurian ancestors of the birds date back to the Early Jurassic6. The hind limbs of Late Triassic epoch theropods lack osteological evidence for an avian reversed hallux and also display other functional differences from birds7. Previous references to suggested Late Triassic to Early Jurassic bird-like footprints have been reinterpreted as produced by non-avian dinosaurs having a high angle between digits II and IV8,9 and in all cases their avian affinities have been challenged10. Here we describe well-preserved and abundant footprints with clearly avian characters from a Late Triassic redbed sequence of Argentina11,12, at least 55 Myr before the first known skeletal record of birds. These footprints document the activities, in an environment interpreted as small ponds associated with ephemeral rivers, of an unknown group of Late Triassic theropods having some avian characters.

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This work was funded by the Agencia Nacional de Promoción Cientifica y Technologica of Argentina. M. Archangelsky helped during fieldwork. We thank T. Coughlin for sharing unpublished geochronological data. W.A.S. Sarjeant critically read the manuscript and A. Zamuner commented on biostratigraphical implications of the fossil flora.

Author information


  1. CONICET, Av. Uruguay 151, 6300, Santa Rosa, La Pampa, Argentina

    • Ricardo N. Melchor
    •  & Jorge F. Genise
  2. Universidad Nacional de La Pampa, Av. Uruguay 151, 6300, Santa Rosa, La Pampa, Argentina

    • Ricardo N. Melchor
  3. Museo Paleontológico “Egidio Feruglio”, Av. Fontana 140, 9100, Trelew, Chubut, Argentina

    • Silvina de Valais
    •  & Jorge F. Genise


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The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Ricardo N. Melchor.

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