Seeing Fossil Footprints

A Footprint

Eldon George grew up in Parrsboro, Nova Scotia, and was fascinated by footprints. As a young boy, he found his first fossil footprint in 1940 while he was recovering from an injured arm. He had been looking for shells on the beach while his arm healed. Eldon gazed at a rock in front of him and saw an ancient footprint, the five rounded toes clearly visible. He was only nine years old.

 

Observation and Discovery

Eldon quickly developed a sharp eye for fossils. The more he observed and learned, the more he could see and collect. With each new discovery, a new insight and a new spark of knowledge.

An ancient landscape was opening to his imagination. A horseshoe crab found one day, and then a fossil fern or more footprints. The rocks near his home, like pages in a book, record our ancient history. The pages of this ancient book are turned every year as the cliff erodes from the powerful Bay of Fundy tides.

As Eldon shared his discoveries he began carefully outlining the footprints to direct people’s attention to the curved edges of toes and the rounded surface of the pad of the foot. He began to outline the footprints with pen to make it easier for people to see what he saw. Outlining the edge made it easier for people to see the surface through his eyes, to see the foot of an ancient beast that walked across a soft muddy surface.

With the simple outline the ancient footprint becomes easier to see and additional features become apparent. The delicate features of each toe or perhaps even skin texture become observable on the hard rock surface. Other details also become apparent.

Rain Marks

Looking again at the same rock, the ancient five toed footprint on the surface is now quite clear. Attention then shifts to notice the small dimples on the surface of the rock. These are ancient rain marks formed as drops landing into soft mud.

Rain was falling onto a soft muddy surface as a storm passed overhead. As the rain came to an end, the mud recorded the impact of the last few drops of the storm hitting the soft mud surface. The patterns formed by these last drops of rain were preserved as the mud slowly dried in the sun. Blowing sand then quickly covered the rain marked surfaces and this sedimentary rock was buried for over 300 million years.

If we look carefully, we can also notice the gentle undulations of the mud surface covered by the rain marks. Shallow ripples on the mud that suggest the slow flow of water before the rain storm. These gentle ripples are like those often found along the shoreline of a shallow lake or slow moving river.

A final detail of timing, it appears the animal made the footprint just after the rain storm had stopped. The mud was still soft, but there are no drops recorded on the surface of the footprint. The footprint happened after the rain.

With all these details, the rock records a series of events and captures a specific moment in vastness of geologic time. An animal’s foot sinks into the soft mud as it slowly walks down the muddy shore, the animal still dripping wet from the rainstorm that ended just moments before.

 

Having discovered his first fossil, Eldon began to look and see more in the rocks where he lived.  It was Eldon’s great fortune to grow up on the shores of Parrsboro Harbour where the rocks record an ancient history of when early reptiles roamed this ancient landscape.

Learn more about Eldon George and the Parrsboro Rock Shop Project at http://ParrsboroRocks.ca