Every once in a while I have a vision – I am suddenly transported to a place in my mind where I can picture the banks of the Connecticut River swarming with large, bipedal dinosaurs. Did you know that the “first dinosaur tracks in recorded history” were found here in the Connecticut River Valley? (Or at least the first European person to take special note of them…) The story goes that in 1802, a farm boy by the name of Pliny Moody plowed up a slab of rock with tracks in it which he described as being “three-toed like a bird”. He brought it home to use as a doorstep. Local religious figures attributed the track to “Noah’s Raven”. Later the tracks were thought to have been made by a large, crocodile-like reptile and paleontologists named the creature Otozoum moodi in Pliny’s honor.
It was an 1835 road paving project in the Greenfield area that got the attention of scientists, after a large volume of tracks were found. Dr. James Dean is credited with recognizing the scientific significance of the tracks. Professor Edward Hitchcock of Amherst College began to study the many tracks, thinking at first they were from some kind of “unknown ancient birds”. Hitchcock’s intensive study of the tracks essentially started the field of Paleoichnology (the study of fossil traces). And so it began.
You could spend your whole life learning about dinosaurs, of course. There are many places to learn about the history of dinosaurs in the Pioneer Valley and even visit tracks still in the ground outside. One of the most amazing places to visit is the Amherst College Museum of Natural History, since there has been study of these local dinosaurs since thye 1830’s! There is an incredible array of tracks as well as passionate staff who will impress you with their knowledge. This Yankee magazine article has a great list of “Places to see dinosaur tracks in southern New England.” The Nash Dinosaur Track Site and Rock Shop has a some great information as does the
If you have a few minutes or a lifetime, drop into this little rabbit hole of amazing history and see the place you live with new eyes.