Fossil trackway

A fossil trackway is a type of trace fossil, a trackway made by an organism. Many fossil trackways were made by dinosaurs, early tetrapods, and other quadrupeds and bipeds on land. Marine organisms also made many ancient trackways (such as the trails of trilobites and eurypterids like Hibbertopterus).

Some basic fossil trackway types:

  1. footprints
  2. tail drags
  3. belly drag marks – (e.g., tetrapods)[1]
  4. chain of trace platforms – (example: Yorgia)
  5. body imprint – (Monuron trackway, insect)
Yorgia trace
Specialized marine trace trackway, Yorgia, from the Ediacaran of northern Russia.

The majority of fossil trackways are foot impressions on land, or subsurface water, but other types of creatures will leave distinctive impressions. Examples of creatures supported, or partially supported, in a water environment are known. The fossil "millipede-type" genus Arthropleura left its multi-legged/feet trackways on land.

Protichnites fossil trackway.

Hominid trackways



Laetoli Site, February 2006

Some of the earliest trackways for human ancestors have been discovered in Tanzania. The Laetoli trackway is famous for the hominin footprints preserved in volcanic ash. After the footprints were made in powdery ash, soft rain cemented the ash layer to tuff, preserving the prints. The hominid prints were produced by three individuals, one walking in the footprints of the other, making the original tracks difficult to discover. As the tracks lead in the same direction, they might have been produced by a group — but there is nothing else to support the common reconstruction of a nuclear family visiting the waterhole together.

South Africa

In South Africa, two ancient trackways have been found containing footprints, one at Langebaan and one at Nahoon. Both trackways occur in calcareous eolianites or hardened sand dunes. At Nahoon, trackways of at least five species of vertebrates, including three hominid footprints, are preserved as casts.[2] The prints at Langebaan are the oldest human footprints, dated to approximately 117,000 years old.[3]


New South Wales

Twenty six human fossil trackways have been found in the Willandra Lakes area adjacent to Lake Garnpung, consisting of 563 human footprints from 19,000 to 20,000 years ago.[4]

Early Tetrapod

The earliest land creatures (actually land-marine coastal-riverine-marshland) left some of the first terrestrial trackways. They range from tetrapods to proto-reptilians and others.

A possible first connection of a trackway with the vertebrate that left it was published by Drs. Sebastian Voigt and David Berman and Amy Henrici in the 12 September 2007 issue of Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. The paleontologists who made the connection were aided by unusually detailed trackways left in fine-grained Lower Permian mud of the Tambach Formation in central Germany, together with exceptionally complete fossilised skeletons in the same 290-million-year-old strata. They matched the two most common trackways with the two most common fossils, two reptile-like herbivores known as Diadectes absitus (with the trackway pseudonym Ichniotherium cottae) and Orobates pabsti (with the trackway pseudonym of Orobates pabsti).[5]

The Permo-Carboniferous of Prince Edward Island, Canada contains trackways of tetrapods and stem-reptiles.[6] Macrofloral and palynological information help date them.

Ireland hosts late Middle Devonian tetrapod trackways at three sites on Valentia Island within the Valentia Slate Formation.[7][8]

The earliest fossil trackway of primitive tetrapods in Australia occurs in the Genoa River Gorge, Victoria, dating from the Devonian 350 million years ago.[9]

Dinosaur trackways

First Dinosaur Tracks from the Arabian Peninsula
Arabian Peninsula dinosaur trackway.

Dinosaurs lived on the continents before grasses evolved (the "Age of the Grasses" evolved with the "Age of the Mammals"); the dinosaurs lived in the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous and left many trackways, both from plant-eaters and the meat-eaters, in various layers of mud and sand.

With scientific analysis, dinosaur specialists are now analyzing tracks for the walking-speeds, or sprint-running speeds for all categories of dinosaurs, even to the large plant eaters, but especially the faster 3-toed meat hunters. Evidence of herding, as well as pack hunting are also being investigated.




An example trackway from Africa is a trackway in 140 Ma rose-coloured sandstone of Chewore Area, Lower Zimbabwe Rift Valley.[10] The small footprint size, with both manus and pes implies that it is a trackway of a juvenile, a probable carnosaur.

North America

Probable Dilophosaurus footprint from Red Fleet State Park, northeastern Utah.

The western regions of North America, especially the western border of the Western Interior Seaway, are common for dinosaur trackways. Wyoming has dinosaur trackways from the Late Cretaceous, 65 ma.[11] (A model example of this 3-toed Wyoming trackway was made for presentation.)[12]

Paluxy River
Theropod and sauropod tracks under water in the Paluxy River

In the United States, dinosaur footprints and trackways are found in the Glen Rose Formation, the most famous of these being the Paluxy River site in Dinosaur Valley State Park. These were the first sauropoda footprints scientifically documented, and were designated a US National Natural Landmark in 1969. Some are as large as about 3 feet across. The prints are thought to have been preserved originally in a tidal flat or a lagoon.[13] There are tracks from two types of dinosaur. The first type of tracks are from a sauropoda and were made by an animal of 30 to 50 feet in length, perhaps a brachiosaurid such as Pleurocoelus,[13] and the second tracks by a theropoda, an animal of 20 to 30 feet in length, perhaps an Acrocanthosaurus. A variety of scenarios was proposed to explain the tracks, but most likely represent twelve sauropods "probably as a herd, followed somewhat later by three theropods that may or may not have been stalking -- but that certainly were not attacking." [13]


The Gansu dinosaur trackway located in the Liujiazia National Dinosaur Geopark in Yanguoxia, China contains hundreds of tracks including 245 dinosaur, 350 theropod, 364 sauropod and 628 ornithopod tracks among others.[15]

Mammal trackways

Mammal trackways are among the least common trackways. Mammals were not often in mud, or riverine environments; they were more often in forestlands or grasslands. Thus the earlier tetrapods or proto-tetrapods would yield the most fossil trackways. The Walchia forest of Brule, Nova Scotia has an example of an in situ Walchia forest, and tetrapod trackways that extended over some period of time through the forest area.

United States


A recent marsupial trackway site in the Colac district of Australia (west of Colac) contains marsupial trackways as well as kangaroo and wallaby tracks.[16]


A carnivorous theropod trackway, near Enciso, La Rioja, Spain


Petalichnus, arthropod walking traces. Devonian of northeastern Ohio.

Moa footprints

Moa footprints near the Manawatu River, New Zealand.

Hibbertopteroid track

Hibbertopterus trackway: negative relief image, a groove infilled by sand appears as a ridgeline

See also


  1. ^ Stössel, I, Williams, E.A. & Higgs, K.T. 2016. Ichnology and depositional environment of the Middle Devonian Valentia Island tetrapod trackways, south-west Ireland. Palaeogeog., Palaeoclimatol., Palaeoecol., 462, 16–40
  2. ^ Last Interglacial Hominid and Associated Vertebrate Fossil Trackways in Coastal Eolianites, South Africa, 2008
  3. ^ South Africa West Coast article on Langebaan footprints
  4. ^ Westaway, Michael C.; Cupper, Matthew L.; Johnston, Harvey; Graham, Ian (June 2013). "The Willandra Fossil Trackway: Assessment of ground penetrating radar survey results and additional OSL dating at a unique Australian site". Australian Archaeology (76): 84–89. JSTOR 23621961.
  5. ^ Science Daily, "Who Went There? Matching Fossil Tracks With Their Makers", 15 September 2007.
  6. ^ Calder, J.H., Baird, D. & Urdang, E.B. 2004. On the discovery of tetrapod trackways from Permo-Carboniferous redbeds of Prince Edward Island and their biostratigraphic significance. Atlantic Geology, 40, 217–226. [1]
  7. ^ Stössel, I. 1995. The discovery of a new Devonian tetrapod trackway in SW Ireland. J. Geol. Soc. Lond. 152, 407–413.
  8. ^ Stössel, I, Williams, E.A. & Higgs, K.T. 2016. Ichnology and depositional environment of the Middle Devonian Valentia Island tetrapod trackways, south-west Ireland. Palaeogeog., Palaeoclimatol., Palaeoecol., 462, 16–40
  9. ^ Warren, J.W. & Wakefield, N.A., 1972. Trackways of tetrapod vertebrates from the Upper Devonian of Victoria, Aust. Nature 238, 469-470.
  10. ^ "Walking with baby dinosaurs", manus and pes prints
  11. ^ Dinosaur Hunting in Wyoming, photo: Arlene and Gabe at the trackways. [2]
  12. ^ Dinosaur Hunting in Wyoming, photo: trackways for presentation.
  13. ^ a b c Martin Lockley & Adrian P. Hunt, Dinosaur Tracks and Other Fossil Footprints of the Western United States, Columbia U. Press, New York (1995)
  14. ^ Area with 200-plus dinosaur tracks opening to public soon accessdate=2014-08-25
  15. ^ Fujita, Sato; Lee, Yuong-Nam; Azuma, Yoichi; Li, Daqing (2012). "Unusual Tridactyl Trackways with Tail Traces from the Lower Cretaceous Heikou Group, Gansu Province". Palaios, Society for Sedimentary Geology. 27 (8): 560–570. doi:10.2110/palo.2012.p12-015r. JSTOR 41692731.
  16. ^ Unrivalled fossil find, The Cola Herald

External links

Dinosaur trackways:

Early Tetrapods:


20th century in ichnology

The 20th century in ichnology refers to advances made between the years 1900 and 1999 in the scientific study of trace fossils, the preserved record of the behavior and physiological processes of ancient life forms, especially fossil footprints. Significant fossil trackway discoveries began almost immediately after the start of the 20th century with the 1900 discovery at Ipolytarnoc, Hungary of a wide variety of bird and mammal footprints left behind during the early Miocene. Not long after, fossil Iguanodon footprints were discovered in Sussex, England, a discovery that probably served as the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World.Several enduring mysteries from the 19th century continued to vex ichnologists, like the identity of the Chirotherium trackmaker. Renowned paleontologist Franz von Nopcsa attributed the ichnogenus to the prosauropod dinosaur Plateosaurus, despite an apparent mismatch between its number of toes (4) and the preserved digit traces of Chirotherium (5). Von Nopcsa explained the discrepancy by arguing that one of the impressions in the Chirotherium tracks was left by a soft tissue structure that did not fossilize. However, it was Wolfgang Soergel who correctly hypothesized that Chirotherium was produced by a distant relative of modern crocodilians. Using only its footprints as a guide he reconstructed the life appearance of the Chirotherium trackmaker. Decades later paleontologists described an animal named Ticinosuchus which precisely fulfilled Soergel's predictions. Ticinosuchus or a close relative seems to have been the true Chirotherium trackmaker.During the 20th century, many significant fossil trackway discoveries were made in the western United States. In the 1930s and 1940s, Roland T. Bird discovered the tracks of large sauropod and theropod dinosaurs in Texas. He excavated a major section of the track ways on behalf of the American Museum of Natural History. This was the first large scale excavation of fossil footprints in history. In the 1950s Lee Stokes reported unusual footprints he interpreted as the first known pterosaur tracks. This attribution would be controversial much of the rest of the century but has since been vindicated. The dinosaur footprints of Dinosaur Ridge in Colorado were also discovered and studied in the 20th century.The advent of the dinosaur renaissance and the publication by R. McNeil Alexander of a formula which could reconstruct their running speed based on data from fossil trackways brought renewed interest and prestige to ichnology during the late 20th century. This led to several symposia on the subject of vertebrate trace fossils. In 1986 such a conference dedicated to dinosaur footprints was held in New Mexico. Roughly a decade later renowned German ichnologist Heinrich Haubold organized a conference dedicated to the more ancient footprints of the Paleozoic Era. This gathering has been regarded as a turning point in the study of tracks of that age.

Brule, Nova Scotia

Brule (English: ) is a rural community located in Colchester County, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Located on Amet Sound an embayment of the Northumberland Strait 6 kilometres east of the village of Tatamagouche near the county boundary, the community is situated on the southern shore of Brule Harbour opposite Brule Point.

Clayton Lake State Park

Clayton Lake State Park is a state park of New Mexico, United States, featuring a 170-acre (69 ha) recreational reservoir and a fossil trackway of dinosaur footprints. It is located 15 miles (24 km) north of Clayton, close to New Mexico's border with Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas. The park is accessed via New Mexico State Road 455. The landscape is characterized by rolling grasslands, volcanic rocks, and sandstone bluffs, set on the western edge of the Great Plains. The park area was a stopover point for travelers along the Cimarron Cutoff of the Santa Fe Trail.

Visitor activities include picnicking, camping, and fishing at the lake, as well as viewing one of the most extensive dinosaur trackways in North America. Clayton Lake was created by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish in 1955 as a fishing lake and winter waterfowl resting area.

A dam was constructed across Seneca Creek, which is actually a series of seeps except after heavy rains. During the fishing season, which usually runs from March to October each year, the lake is a popular spot for anglers hoping to catch trout, catfish, bass, and walleye. Boats are allowed on the lake, but are restricted to trolling speeds. The lake is closed to fishing during the winter, when it serves as a stopover for waterfowl.

The park offers a group shelter and a modern comfort station. The dinosaur tracks are embedded in rock near the lake. They can be observed on the dam spillway at the end of a gentle 0.25-mile (0.40 km) trail. The best times to view the tracks are in the morning and the late afternoon. A sheltered gazebo and a boardwalk trail provide extensive information regarding the dinosaurs.In 2010 the Clayton Lake State Park with the Star Point Observatory was designated by the International Dark-Sky Association as a Dark Sky Park.

Genoa, Victoria

Genoa is a town in Eastern Gippsland, Victoria, Australia. It is close to the New South Wales border where the Princes Highway crosses the Genoa River. The town is an important access point to the Croajingolong National Park. At the 2006 census, Genoa and the surrounding area had a population of 304.The Genoa Post Office opened on 9 April 1888.In 1972 the earliest fossil trackway of primitive tetrapods were found in the Genoa River Gorge, dating back 350 million years.


Hibbertopterus is a genus of giant eurypterid, a group of extinct aquatic arthropods, that lived during the Devonian and Carboniferous.

Hibbertopterus is a member of the family Hibbertopteridae, large bizarre Eurypterids found from the Upper Devonian to the end of the Permian period. They were sweep feeders, inhabiting freshwater swamps and rivers, feeding by raking through the soft sediment with blades on their anterior appendages to capture small invertebrates. Their morphology was so unusual that they have been thought to be an order separate from Eurypterida. Recent work however confirms them to be a derived member of the suborder Stylonurina, with the genus Drepanopterus being a basal member of their superfamily.

The genus contains eleven species, including the type species H. scouleri from the Carboniferous of Scotland.

List of New Mexico state parks

This is a list of state parks and reserves in the New Mexico state park system. The system began with the establishment of Bottomless Lakes State Park on November 18, 1933. New Mexico currently has 35 state parks. It has been calculated that 70% of the state's population lives within 40 miles (64 km) of a New Mexico state park. The system as a whole saw 4.5 million visitors in 2009. The parks are managed by the New Mexico State Parks Division of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. The mission of the State Parks Division is to "protect and enhance natural and cultural resources, provide first-class recreational and education facilities and opportunities, and promote public safety to benefit and enrich the lives of visitors."

List of Utah State Parks

Utah State Parks is the common name for the Division of Utah State Parks and Recreation; a division of the Utah Department of Natural Resources. This is the state agency that manages the state park system of the U.S. state of Utah.

Utah's state park system began with four heritage parks in 1957: Sugar House Park (which was later removed from the system), Utah Territorial Statehouse in Fillmore, This Is the Place Monument in Salt Lake City, and Camp Floyd outside of Lehi.

Today, there are 43 Utah State Parks and several undeveloped areas totaling over 95,000 acres (380 km2) of land and more than one million surface acres of water. Utah's state parks are scattered throughout Utah; from Bear Lake State Park at the Utah/Idaho border to Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum deep in the Four Corners region, and everywhere in between.

The Division of Utah State Parks and Recreation also administers the Utah off highway vehicle, boating, and trails programs. In this capacity, they work to provide access to waterways and trails, and promote education, safety, and resource protection.The division's mission statement is "To enhance the quality of life by preserving and providing natural, cultural, and recreational resources for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations."

List of non-Dinosauria fossil trackway articles

This is a list of articles relating to fossil trackways that are outside the category of the numerous fossil dinosaur articles – that refer to tracks or trackways.

Monuran trackway

The Monuran trackway is a fossil trackway in the Robledo Mountains of New Mexico, produced by the extinct insect group called Monura, (meaning "one-tail"), from the Lower Permian. The monuran is a wingless jumping insect; thus the means of locomotion is jumping, then walking. The trackway is composed of an initial beginning 'flop and bodyprint', then a series of foot tracks with a tail-drag/body-drag in between.

The ichnofossil name of the monuran footprint is called Tonganoxichnus.

Red Fleet State Park

Red Fleet State Park is a state park of Utah, United States, featuring a 750-acre (300 ha) reservoir and a fossil trackway of dinosaur footprints. The park is located 10 miles (16 km) north of Vernal.

Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite

Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite is an assemblage of fossil dinosaur footprints on public land near Shell, in Big Horn County, Wyoming.They were discovered in 1997 by Erik P. Kvale, a research geologist from the Indiana Geological Survey.The site is managed by the Bureau of Land Management as part of the Red Gulch/Alkali National Back Country Byway and is open to the public.

Tensleep Sandstone

The Tensleep Sandstone is a geological formation of Pennsylvanian to very early Permian age in Wyoming.

Tizi-n-Aït tracksite

Tizi-n-Aït tracksite is a fossil trackway location in Morocco in the Azilal province. It is Jurassic (Pliensbachian, 189.6 - 183.0 Ma) in age, with tracks attributed to sauropods or stegosaurs, and an unidentified carnosaur. The tracksite is part of the Aganane Formation and the tracks are located at base of formation.


Tyrannosauripus is an ichnogenus of dinosaur footprint. It was discovered by geologist Charles "Chuck" Pillmore in 1983 and formally described by Martin Lockley and Adrian Hunt in 1994. This fossil footprint from northern New Mexico is 86 cm long and given its Late Cretaceous age (about 66 million years old), it very likely belonged to the giant theropod dinosaur Tyrannosaurus rex. Similar tridactyl dinosaur tracks in North America were discovered earlier, but they were later recognized as hadrosaurid tracks. In 2007, large tyrannosaurid track was found also in eastern Montana (Hell Creek Formation). In 2016, a probable fossil trackway of Tyrannosaurus was discovered in Wyoming (Lance Formation).


Undichna is a fish-fin, or fish-swimming fossil trail left as a fossil impression on a substrate, or the opposite impression on an overlying substrate; this type of fossil is an ichnofossil, in this case a specific ichnogenus, Undichna; the term "undichna" is composed of the words: 'und'–'ichna', for "wave-trace".

At present, the oldest known Undichna were made by Cephalaspids, that only had presumptive motion scenarios, due to the physiological form of the cephalaspids as predating the teleosts, (bony fishes). The trails are from the border of England and Wales, from 400 mya, in an ancient riverbed environment.

Undichna britannica

Undichna britannica is a fish-fin, or fish-swimming fossil trackway left as a fossil impression on a substrate; this type of fossil is an ichnofossil, and in this case an ichnospecies.

The U. britannica fish-fin tracks, or trackways are often associated with current or wave ripple marks, probably shallow water, near-shoreline. Other deep water varieties may be less common, or associated with narrowed current flow between obstructions. The sinusoidal high points of the ripple marks may lend itself to the formation of the trackways.

Undichna simplicitas

Undichna simplicitas is a fish-fin, or fish-swimming fossil trackway left as a fossil impression on a substrate; this type of fossil is an ichnofossil, and in this case an ichnospecies. The ichnogenus for the fish-fin, or fish tracks is named Undichna.

Fossil trackways of Undichna simplicitas have been found in Alabama, USA, in the Pottsville Form, (Westphalian A, Upper Carboniferous, coal mine and tailings); also Indiana, Kansas, and Spain, (El Montsec and Las Hoyas).

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