Early encounters with fossil footprints

Theropod track cast
Cast of a track made by a bipedal, meat-eating theropod dinosaur from the early Jurassic Period in the western United States (UCM 179.10/US Bureau of Land Management specimen). Tracks like this are mentioned in Hopi traditional lore (Mayor 2005).

What would you think if you saw some strange tracks that were apparently produced by an animal unlike any you had ever seen before? Such tracks would have been even more perplexing because they were hardened into stone! Ancient peoples observed fossil tracks at different sites around the world long before modern paleontologists began to study them. Some people assumed that strange, lithified (turned to stone) tracks belonged to animals that were still alive, but lived far away. Other people believed that fossil tracks belonged to supernatural creatures like dragons. In North America, some Native peoples have stories and traditions related to fossil tracks. For example, images very similar to theropod dinosaur tracks have been seen on the traditional costumes of Hopi people performing the Snake Dance, a rain-related ritual. One version of Hopi traditional lore is that the three-toed tracks found in rocks were left by the Kachina spirit who sends rain. Dinosaur tracks in the area are often hard to see, but are always more visible when water collects in them after a rainstorm.

Close this window