- Photo: Mark Roessler/Valley Advocate
This unusual combination shows three elements not often found fossilized together: dinosaur footprints, raindrop impressions, and a tail drag mark (the curved line incised between and through the footprints). This fossil can be seen among the rest of Hitchcock’s collection at Amherst College’s Beneski Museum of Natural History, which houses the oldest collection of fossil dinosaur tracks in the world. A substantial chunk of the collection (and, some knowledgeable people claimed at the time, the best part) came from the collection of Greenfield’s Dexter Marsh.
The dark spot in the layers of rock is an example of dinosaur poop, or a coprolite. First discovered by Mary Anning (see Jeannine Atkins’s July 9 post about her), analysis of these droppings helped early track hunter Edward Hitchcock find that they contained uric acid, which birds excrete, and no traces of urea, which is found in mammalian feces. This evidence helped to reaffirm his view that the creatures who deposited these remains were more avian than reptilian—a point that was hotly disputed until fairly recently.
A natural dam created by a glacier once held back the Connecticut River, so that our Pioneer Valley was under a giant lake stretching from Connecticut all the way up into northern Vermont. Geologists have named this body of water Lake Hitchcock, in honor of the first New England geologist to recognize in the landscape traces of the lake’s former existence. Before the dam eventually broke through, emptying the lake and leaving behind what became our river, there was a small spillway that had been slowly draining for centuries. The spillway is still there, not far from where the river now flows, and only a short drive from Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill, Connecticut.