New England is not the first place you think of when you think of dinosaurs, yet some of the first dinosaur remains in the United States were found here in the 19th century, mostly in the form of footprints. Since 2010, Jurassic Roadshow has brought the science, history, and art of the Connecticut River Valley’s dinosaur footprints and trace impressions to street fairs, community events, and libraries.
Most of the footprints are 3-toed, birdlike tracks in the sandstone of the valley floor, often found along the river banks and under the water. This gives many people the mistaken impression that dinosaurs once walked along the banks of the Connecticut River. This is not the case. When dinosaurs roamed the region approximately 200 million years ago, the river did not exist, but there was a shallow sea where the animals came to drink, eat fish, and perhaps cool off.
For centuries, Native Americans speculated on the origin of the tracks, but sadly, their thoughts are lost to us today. European colonists may have seen them, too, but the first known thorough scientific investigation began in 1835, a few years before anyone knew what a dinosaur was.
Jurassic Roadshow is a pop-up exhibit that shifts its shape to fit each town and venue. Our collectors exhibit local trace fossils, from dinosaur tracks to insect trails, mud cracks, raindrop impressions, and more. We usually have a microscope on hand and sometimes costumed historical interpreters who talk about 19th-century experiences with geology and fossils. Art, poetry, music, and other activities connect to each town’s local character to the geology and discovery of the dinosaur tracks. When we can, we also offer a talk or demonstration by a paleontologist, historian, writer, musician, or artist.
Our sister project, Impressions from a Lost World, is a large, intricately knit website about Edward and Orra White Hitchcock and the 19th-century discovery of dinosaur footprints in the Connecticut River Valley. Six stories and seven thematic essays give the site coherence, but you can approach the content in a number of ways. You can skim or you can dig deeper. There are brief biographical introductions; artifacts and original documents to let you see the history for yourself; background information on the historical circumstances of the discovery and the state of geological science at the time; videos, slideshows, and interactive activities about paleontology; and a map that helps you plan a dinosaur-footprint-focused trip.
Jurassic Roadshow was originally a project of Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association (Deerfield), funded in part by a John and Abigail Adams Grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Impressions from a Lost World was created under grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
Photos by Sarah Doyle. Impressions from a Lost World illustration by Monica Vachula.