University of Bristol


"Every tetrapod animal can potentially make hundreds of thousands, even millions, of tracks in a lifetime, whereas it only has one skeleton consisting of a few hundred bones."
(Lockley & Hunt, 1995)

Fossils are of unique interest to the human race. Through these remains of animals long gone we can wonder at the strange and bizarre forms of life that inhabited our world millions of years before our time.

When we think of fossils, we usually think of the great skeletons of brontosaurs and Tyrannosaurus that we see reconstructed in museums. However, skeletal remains, or body fossils are not the only evidence of worlds gone by. We can also study eggs, fossilized dung (coprolites), skin impressions, feeding traces, stomach stones (gastroliths) and footprints. Such fossils can be described as trace fossils (Thulborn, 1990).

This website focuses specifically upon the footprints, or tracks, left by the infamous dinosaurs.

A dinosaur ichnite

Picture contributed by S.Braddy

In recent years the study of dinosaur footprints has experienced a rennaisance. Footprints of any animal can indicate a number of things including:

Footprints are especially useful when combined with other fields of palaeobiology. We can compare footprints with various dinosaur skeletons. Such studies have helped in correctly reconstructing dinosaur posture.

Tracks are useful indicators of dinosaur behaviour. Unlike skeletons, footprints are evidence of living dinosaurs. We can use footprints to indicate how fast these ancient beasts moved. Footprints might also indicate if these animals travelled en masse,or in herds, or as solitary creatures. Occasionally we find exceptional trackways that show carnivorous dinosaurs pursuing prey.

Knowing the type of substrate that a footprint was made in can tell us something about the environment that the animal was living in or passing through. Using this knowledge we can suggest lifestyles for different dinosaurs.

"Footprints can..demonstrate trends in locomotor evolution [and help in] eluciadating the timing of trends in archosaurian pedal evolution" (Parrish, 1989). However, we must be cautious when we interpret footprints.


Parrish, J.M. (1989) Phylogenetic Patterns in the manus and pes of early Mesozoic Archosauromorpha. In Dinosaur Tracks and Traces (ed. Gillette, D.D., Lockley, M.G.), pp.231-241. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Lockley, M.G. & Hunt, A.P. (1995) Dinosaur Tracks and other fossil footprints of the Western United States. Columbia University Press, New York.

Thulborn, R.A. (1990) Dinosaur Traces. Chapman & Hall, London.


Footprint Morphology

Back to the Dinosaur tracks and trails home page
Back to The Palaeofiles home page
Back to Bristol Palaeobiology Group home page