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Footprints belong to a special category of fossils known as trace fossils, or ichnofossils (ichno = trace).  The study of traces (vertebrate or invertebrate) is know as ichnology, the study of fossil traces is palaeoichnology (palaeo = ancient) as opposed to the study of recent traces which is neoichnology (neo = new). 

Trace fossils are the preserved records of an animal's (or plant's, or microbe's) activity.  Trace fossils differ from body fossils in that they are not the physical remains of an animal such as bones or shells (see footprint preservation). Since an animal only has one skeleton, but can produce millions of tracks in its lifetime the fossilized tracks of animals are much more common to find than their skeletal remains.

Trace fossils can be given taxonomic status in a way similar to naming body fossils. Instead of naming a genus or species as would be the case with body fossils (i.e. Homo sapiens), vertebrate ichnologists (people who study vertebrate traces) give ichnogenus and ichnospecies names to a trace fossil. It is important to keep in mind that the name is for the trace and not the animal that made the trace.

The scientific study of vertebrate footprints dates back to the early 1800's, at the time when the world's leading scientists were just beginning to learn about our fossil heritage and about the true antiquity of the Earth.

Fossil tracks were found in Canada in the mid-1800's on the east coast, but tracks were not reported from western Canada well into the 20th Century. Not all Canadian provinces and territories have reported tracks of vertebrates. There are many reasons why this could be. For instance some provinces and territories may not have rocks of the right ages or may not have them exposed in a way for tracks to be found.

It is the intent of this website to provide some information on vertebrate ichnology research in Canada. 


If there are any questions please contact me at rtmccrea@prprc.com

This site was last updated 01/26/05