When I think of dinosaurs, I think about bones. The skeletons that sunk their ancient talons into my imagination and never let go. There’s something about them that immediately makes my mind start to wrap the osteological frames with muscle, skin, and protofeathers, animating what’s been dead for over 66 million years.
But this is too narrow a view. Our knowledge of dinosaurs – as well as other forms of prehistoric life – is not constrained to bones alone. Some of the most powerful evidence about how ancient creatures actually moved and behaved comes from trace fossils – tracks, tail drags, and other impressions. This is fossilized behavior. Skeletons arrayed in museum halls may invoke more awe, but, if you really want to understand dinosaur life, you need to look at the imprints they created on stone.
The subdiscipline that focuses on tracks and traces is called ichnology, and this way of seeing prehistoric life has no greater champion than Emory University paleontologist Anthony Martin. Author of the book Dinosaurs Without Bones – which presents a view of dinosaurs different from any other committed to the popular literature before – Martin has pondered over the meaning of dinosaur burrows, cataloged how traces of modern life can help us interpret the past, and eloquently expressed why no picture of the past is complete without considering what trace fossils can tell us. Check out the video below to learn how developing “ichnovision” can enrich your view of the past and present: