DINOSAUR TRACE FOSSILS
Authored by Anthony J. Martin
Environmental Studies Program, Emory University Atlanta, Georgia USA 30322
INTRODUCTIONIf all of the dinosaur bones in the world disappeared tomorrow, paleontologists still would have plenty of evidence for the existence of dinosaurs through dinosaur trace fossils. A trace fossil is indirect evidence of ancient life (exclusive of body parts) that reflects some sort of behavior by the organism. Examples of trace fossils are tracks, trails, burrows, borings, gnawings, eggs, nests, gizzard stones, and dung. In contrast, a body fossil is direct evidence of ancient life that involves some body part of the organism.
Dinosaurs left trace fossils represented by tracks, tooth marks, eggs, nests, gastroliths, and coprolites. Body fossils of dinosaurs include bones and skin impressions. As an example of the distinction between dinosaur body fossils and trace fossils, skin impressions are not trace fossils unless they were made while the dinosaur was still alive, such as the skin impressions that might be associated with a footprint.
The purpose of this document is to give a brief summary of dinosaur trace fossils that will supplement paleontological information already given by dinosaur body fossils.
Categories of Dinosaur Trace Fossils
Further Reading on Dinosaur Trace FossilsGillette, D. D., and Lockley, M. G. (eds.) 1989. Dinosaur Tracks and Traces. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 454 p.
Lockely, M. G. 1991. Tracking Dinosaurs: A New Look at an Ancient World. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 238 p.
Lockley, M. G., and Hunt, A. P. 1995. Dinosaur Tracks and Other Fossil Footprints of the Western U.S. Columbia University Press, New York, 338 p.
Thulborn, R. A. 1990. Dinosaur Tracks. Chapman and Hall, London, 410 p.
Acknowledgments: Many thanks to J. Michael Parrish, Northern Illinois University, for the helpful ideas and information he provided to me when I took his Chautauqua "Paleobiology of the Dinosaurs" course in Grand Junction, Colorado, June, 1996. I conjured up the idea for a dinosaur trace fossils Web page while taking the course and began writing it as soon as I arrived back in Atlanta (a place devoid of dinosaur body fossils or trace fossils). Of course, any mistakes or misrepresentations of dinosaur ichnology in this document are entirely my fault, so I would appreciate any constructive criticism or comments you might have for improving the page. Nevertheless, praise is also perfectly acceptable and welcome. Thanks in advance!
For more information about trace fossils and ichnology (the study of modern and ancient traces), go to the Emory University Trace Fossils and Ichnology Page.
This site listed in Animal Lover's Guide to the Internet, which does not discriminate against long-dead animals that we still love.
Last Modified: January 23, 1997.