How Are Dinosaur Tracks Formed?

The Beneski Museum of Natural History houses the most extensive collection of fossil dinosaur tracks in the world. Specimens on exhibit and in storage show a vast array of track morphologies (shapes). Such diversity led 19th and 20th century researchers to name dozens of track types and to speculate about the many different creatures that might have made them.

Research on the tracks continues today. A team of three paleontologists (Stephen Gatesy, Peter Falkingham, and Morgan Turner) is investigating the fundamental origins of track morphology. They study the complex foot-substrate interactions during track formation, as well as factors giving rise to morphological variation.

Learn How Scientists Study Trackmaking

Here you’ll find short videos describing the team’s research using various methods—some simple, some very high-tech—to study both living birds and Beneski fossils. The investigators’ insights and animations provide a more dynamic perspective on the track-making process, thereby breathing life into these amazing relics from Earth’s distant past.

Part 1: Hitchcock’s ‘Birds’

November 5, 2019

Why we use living guineafowl to study Beneski dinosaur tracks.

Part 2: One Foot, Many Tracks

November 14, 2019

Track morphology changes with substrate consistency.

Part 3: One Step, Many Tracks

July 5, 2022

Tracks are volumetric deformations exposed as surfaces.

More Videos Coming Soon

Additional videos are on the way. Please check back!

four images of various aspects of dinosaur tracks

About the Scientists

Stephen M. Gatesy

Stephen M. Gatesy

Gatesy is Professor of Biology in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University, where he studies the evolution of locomotion in dinosaurs. His research combines descriptions of living animals using X-ray imaging and 3-D animation with analyses of fossil tracks and bones. Learn more....

Peter L. Falkingham

Peter L. Falkingham

Falkingham is Senior Lecturer in Vertebrate Biology in the School of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Liverpool John Moores University, UK. His research combines physical and simulated modeling of footprints by living and extinct animals. He has particular interests in computer simulation and digitization methods applied to fossil organisms and their traces. Learn more...

Morgan L. Turner

Morgan L. Turner

Turner is a PhD candidate in the Gatesy Lab in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University, where she studies foot biomechanics in dinosaurs and their relatives. Her research integrates X-ray studies of living alligators, sediment flow experiments with 3D printed foot models, motion analysis, and Virtual Reality visualizations. Learn more...

Funding and Support

National Science Foundation

This work was supported by the US National Science Foundation (EAR 1452119 to SMG and PLF; IOS 0925077 to SMG), a Brown Salomon Faculty Research Award, and the Bushnell Research and Education Fund.

We appreciate the support of the Directors and staff of the Beneski Museum of Natural History (L. Allen, T. Harms, D. Jones, A. Martini, H. Singleton, A. Venne, K. Wellspring, and S. Williams), as well as the Department of Communications (R. Diehl, W. Jarnagin) and Academic Technology Services (J. Kannan, A. Kinney) of Amherst College. We thank our many colleagues and collaborators (D. Baier, B. Brainerd, D. Carrasco, S. Cheleden, M. Colbert, R. Ellis, D. Goldman, F. Jenkins, R. Kambic, B. Knörlein, D. Laidlaw, K. Middleton, J. Novotny, P. Olsen, T. Roberts, N. Shubin, and J. Tveite).