Prehistoric Footprints

By William T. Hathaway

Prehistoric Footprints

In 1978 the Star-Tribune published a picture and article describing the trace fossil footprints discovered at the Banister Cliffs along the Banister River near Markham in Pittsylvania County.

At that time there was no science museum in the Chatham or Danville area. The footprints were so exciting that I sent a letter and picture of the prints to Dr. Duncan Heron of the Department of Geology at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Dr. Heron referred the letter and picture to Dr. Paul Eric Olsen of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University. Dr. Olsen, in a letter to me, commented on the footprints themselves:

“These tracks are of a quality very rarely seen in forms so tiny! What is more, they appear to be a new form. One of my special areas of research is the reptile footprints from the Triassic-Jurassic rocks of the east coast and I can say with certainty that I have never seen anything quite like these. Thus, your discovery is quite important, especially since no other footprints have been reported from that part of the Danville Basin. What these tracks were made by is another matter — your guess is as good as mine.”

The most unusual feature of this discovery was when the large slab of shale was split into two pieces, one half contained a distinct cast of the footprint and the other half contained the clearly defined mold of the footprint. The two slabs of shale containing these footprints are now in the possession of the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville, Virginia. This answers the questions of those who have asked about the whereabouts of these prehistoric footprints.