University of Bristol

Track Taphonomy - Long term preservation

Tracks subjected to reworking have a very low preservation potential"
(Lockley, 1986).

Once a track has been filled and buried, it must withstand the expanse of time to become a fossil. Over geological time scales, sediments may be transformed by diagenesis. Rock morphology can change and with it the fossils therein, including any tracks. This may result in the malformation or even destruction of preserved tracks.

Many sediments are reworked by bioturbation and invading sea levels (transgression). In such circumstances the preserved print may be churned and washed away. Equally, the track may be lifted away, but leave a trace in the underlying sediments.

Traces of tracks produced underneath the footprint are known as undertracks. Undertracks are often preferentially preserved because they are already buried when they are made. Most undertracks represent the footfalls of larger dinosaurs since it is unlikely that the smallest dinosaurs could produce enough pressure to create undertracks.

When we discover tracks, particularly those of limited quality, we must decide "whether the tracks were of poor quality from the time that they were made or, whether they began as well-preserved footprints but underwent deterioration prior to burial and preservation in a modified state" (Lockley, 1986).



Bioturbation is the term used to describe any form of disturbance caused by biotic activity. It is often used to refer to burrowing invertebrates that disrupt sediment. However, the term is not limited and can apply to vegetative roots altering soil structure as well as to dinoturbation. Dinoturbation is disturbance caused by the activity of dinosaurs.


Diagenesis describes the geological processes of physical transformation that are applied to rocks and the fossils therein over geological time-scales.

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Lockley, M.G. (1986) The Paleobiological and Paleoenvironmental Importance of Dinosaur Footprints. Palaios. 1, pp.37-47.

Footprint Morphology


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