GSA Connects 2021 in Portland, Oregon

Paper No. 50-3
Presentation Time: 2:10 PM


BOURGEOIS, Joanne, Earth and Space Science, University of Washington, Box 351310, Seattle, WA 98195-1310

In the Connecticut River Valley, two-footed trackways of large three-toed animals were discovered in the early 1800s and came to the attention of Amherst professor Edward Hitchcock (1793-1864) in the 1830s. His first publication on the subject, Ornithichnology – Description of the Foot marks of Birds, (Ornithichnites) on new Red Sandstone in Massachusetts, was in January 1836 in Silliman’s American Journal of Science and Arts, with illustrations based on drawings by Orra White Hitchcock (1796-1863). This paper so impressed Oxford’s William Buckland (1784-1856) that he managed to include its findings and some illustrations in his Bridgewater Treatise, published the same year. Both men maintained an interest in fossil footprints over their careers, and both had skilled spousal collaborators, in the latter case Mary Morland Buckland (1797-1857).

Edward Hitchcock, prolific geologist and natural theologian, continued to publish detailed studies of the footprints, with illustrations by Orra White Hitchcock, bringing the tracks to national and international attention. In 1837, Hitchcock showed the tracks to Charles Daubeny, who featured them in his 1839 study of North American geology; in 1842, Charles Lyell visited and subsequently reported on several trackways in Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts, the latter in the company of Hitchcock. Also, in 19th century discussion about the evolutionary history of vertebrates, the imagined trackway makers (and the tracks’ attribution to giant birds or to “dinosaurs”) were subjects of interest and debate.

The Connecticut Valley fossil trackways remain well known and studied. Hitchcock’s collection is archived primarily at Amherst College, as are some of Orra Hitchcock’s illustrations. The online historical site Impressions from a Lost World, curated by The Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association [], covers much of Edward and Orra Hitchcock’s life and work on the subject. Dinosaur tracks are the Massachusetts state fossil, and some trackways are “curated” by The Trustees of Reservations []. The most recent major discovery of trackways in Connecticut led to a highway re-route and establishment of Rocky Hill’s Dinosaur State Park [].