Dino Times!

This month we'll combine dinosaurs and trace fossils by reviewing Tracking Dinosaurs, A New Look at an Ancient World by Martin Lockley, Cambridge University Press, 1991. You can special order this through your local book store or do as I did: order it directly from the publisher during their annual 20% off sale in October; you'll have to pay shipping but beating the sales tax and getting 20% off this $42.95 hard cover book is a better deal. It is also available in paperback.

First of all, if you're interested in Dinosaurs you'll be interested in Tracking Dinosaurs. The reason for this is that while bones may tell us how a dinosaur is physically put together (professionals can even differ on this), tracks and trails have a unique ability to tell us something more about them (like the bones, these are subject to varying interpretations as well).

Tracking Dinosaurs is written for a general audience in an informative and entertaining style. It is light and easy reading.

This 238 page book contains fifteen chapters with two appendices and sixteen pages listing references cited in the text. The chapter contents cover these topics: age; how they are preserved; discovery and documentation; how tracks are classified; tracks as they relate to individual behavior; tracks as they relate to social behavior; what tracks can tell about ancient ecology; evolution of dinosaurs; tracks and ancient environments; track effect on the ancient flora and fauna; megatracksites; myths and misconceptions; and the people who study tracks.

The first appendix is a descriptive listing of dinosaur tracks and tracksites which can be readily visited. This is a worldwide list but most are in the United States including the three megatracksites described in the text. The list includes museums, parks, and protected sites.

The second appendix is a glossary defining the minimal amount of technical terms used. in addition, Lockley defines technical terms when he uses them in the text and even reminds the reader of their meanings when used subsequently. This is always a plus for me in books intended for general readers. If you are interested in a more technical book on this subject, seek Dinosaur Tracks and Traces co-edited by Martin Lockley and David Gillette; this book is a compilation of papers written by professionals who study and interpret dinosaur tracks.

Although Lockley has a specific chapter concerning myths and misconceptions about tracks, many of these are discussed in earlier chapters to illustrate track interpretation. For example, a dinosaur track can be misinterpreted as something else (such as a human footprint??) if it is "distorted" by any of a multitude of conditions when, or after, it is made: soft soupy substrate, firm substrate, stepped on by another dinosaur, erosion, speed the animal was moving, unique behavior such as crouching low to the ground, modern exposure of "underprint" not the original print, or any combination of these.

Individual and social behavior discussions, like many other topics lead Lockley into cautionary tales of over interpretation. Much like body fossils through history, tracks and trails have been described as indicating all manner of behavior from predator attacking prey to herd structure. In many cases tracks can tell us many things about the animals but they can't tell everything.

One thing repeated throughout the book is that dinosaur tracks are not a rarity. Literally billions of tracks are known worldwide and many of the best are in the United States. Three megatracksites are described from the U.S. These have been documented to cover hundreds of square kilometers and contain thousands of tracks.

I highly recommend Tracking Dinosaurs especially if you'd like to learn more about the animals than just what their skeletal remains look like.

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