Edward Cope's reconstruction of Laelaps aquilunguis. This work was on display in the original exhibition as item 11. Image source: Cope, Edward Drinker. "The fossil reptiles of New Jersey," in: American Naturalist, vol. 3 (1869), pp. 84-91, pl. 2.

Paper Dinosaurs 1824-1969

An Exhibition of Original Publications from the Collections of the Linda Hall Library

First North American Fossils

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).

The moody foot mark quarry. This work was on display in the original exhibition as item 8. Image source: Hitchock, Edward. Ichnology of New England. A Report on the Sandstone of the Connecticut Valley, especially its Fossil Footmarks. Boston: William White, 1858, pl. 1.

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Hitchcock's First Footprints, 1836

This was Edward Hitchcock's first published article on the fossil footprints of the Connecticut River Valley. He said that his attention was first called to the subject by James Deane, who send him some casts of impressions. He was soon able to obtain the red sandstone slabs themselves, and these were deposited in the Amherst College cabinet, where they would soon be joined by samples from other localities. Hitchcock described most of these samples in his article.

Included with the article was a folding plate with twenty-four figures of his collected tracks, which Hitchcock was convinced were made by birds. We show here a detail from this plate.

Fossil footprints of the Connecticut River Valley. This work is part of our History of Science Collection, but it was NOT included in the original exhibition. Image source: Hitchcock, Edward. "Ornithichnology. Description of the Foot marks of Birds, (Ornithichnites) on new Red Sandstone in Massachusetts," in: American Journal of Science, ser. 1, vol. 29 (1836), pp. 310-311. 

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