Saturday, November 21, 2015


Pictograph showing painted dinosaur
footprint at Flag Point east of Kanab, Utah. Photograph By John Foster and Alden
Hamblin, Survey Notes, January, 2001,
Utah Geological Survey.

A pictograph (painted rather than pecked) on a rock art panel at the Flag Point track site near Kanab, Utah, appears to represent a tridactyl dinosaur footprint (Eubrontes); these are the most obvious prints at the site, though there are also Grallator tracks. The footprints are in the Kayenta Formation of the Lower Jurassic in the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument. The pictograph dates to the Formation Period of the Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) culture, between AD 1000 and 1200 (Mayor and Serjeant. 2001:151).

Dinosaur track at Flag Point, East of Kanab
Utah. Photograph By John Foster and
Alden Hamblin, Survey Notes, January,
2001, Utah Geological Survey.

These pictographs are found at a location known as Flag Point in the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument in southern Utah. There are a number of dinosaur footprints in the rock there and nearby in a rock shelter is a red-painted pictograph panel. It clearly includes a tridactyl form that very closely imitates one of the dinosaur footprints found nearby. A number of other images in the pictograph panel represent bird-man figures with outspread arms. Most viewers assume that the bird-man figures were suggested by the presumed resemblance of a dinosaur footprint to the footprint of a very large bird. This may in fact be the case but it must be remembered that there are also fundamental differences between the track of a bird’s foot and that of a theropod dinosaur other than size.

Most tracks left by a bird’s foot, whether new or fossilized, show the fourth or posterior toe that the bird uses to grasp with extending backwards from the foot. The tridactyl track of a theropod dinosaur does not show that fourth toe extending backwards. The painting of the large track at Flag Point in Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument lacks that projecting fourth toe of a bird’s footprint which suggests that it does in fact represent the nearby dinosaur footprints instead of a bird track. Also, the angle of spread on the toes is quite different for bird and dinosaur tracks. The angle of spread between the outer toes of a bird is about ninety degrees, and the same angle on a therapod dinosaur's track will be nearer forty-five degrees. Although the Flag Point pictograph does not exhibit the fourth toe on the back like many bird tracks, the angle of spread between the outer toes definitely indicates that it is a bird track. But perhaps we are over-thinking this.

A bird track above, a theropod
dinosaur track below.

Having drawn that distinction, I then have to ask myself if the Native Americans who painted the Flag Point panel knew of the difference between bird and dinosaur tracks. Since I am assuming that they had no knowledge of dinosaurs as our modern science has revealed them, the question must be rephrased to "did they know the difference between bird tracks and the tracks of something else?" These people certainly knew their tracks so they would have recognized them as such, but tracks of what? These large tracks in solid stone would undoubtedly have been attributed to mythological monsters, indeed these tracks may well have prompted the origins of such beliefs.

NOTE: This is really only the beginning. We have yet to look at the question of lizard tracks.


Mayor, Adrienne and William A. S. Serjeant
2001    The Folklore of Footprints in Stone: From Classical Antiquity to the Present, Ichnos, Vol. 8, No. 2, 143-163.

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