8. Footprints in New England, 1858


Edward Hitchcock was professor of geology at Amherst College in Massachusetts when a colleague wrote him about a stone slab he had found that contained large footprints. Hitchcock was immediately intrigued, and within a year, in 1836, he published his first paper about the stone footprints of the Connecticut Valley. He published a number of further articles in the ensuing two decades, amassed quite a collection of footprint-bearing slabs for a museum at his college, and finally reviewed the entire field in this sumptuous study of 1858. Hitchcock called his new science "ichnology," a shortening of his original term, "ichnolithology."

The work has sixty lithographs, many of them mere line drawings of tracks, but with an equal number depicting the slabs themselves with almost photographic realism. By far the most charming plate is the first one, a chromolithograph that depicts the Moody Footmark Quarry in South Hadley. It shows the site where Pliny Moody had discovered the very first fossil tracks in 1802; Moody himself helped prepare the sketch from which this lithograph was made. We reproduce a detail of this large print.

We now know that nearly all of the prints that Hitchcock studied and collected were made by Triassic dinosaurs. Hitchcock, however, never entertained this idea, for good reason: the prints were made by large bipeds, and at the time, dinosaurs were thought to be quadrupedal. Hitchcock instead believed that these were the footprints of large birds. Ironically, in the very year of this publication, the first good evidence for bipedal dinosaurs was being discovered by Joseph Leidy in New Jersey (see item 10).


Hitchock, Edward. Ichnology of New England. A Report on the Sandstone of the Connecticut Valley, especially its Fossil Footmarks. Boston: William White, 1858. This work was on display in the original exhibition as item 8.

Site Navigation