Ichnology – A Definition

The other day we were asked the question what is an Ichnologist?  This is an interesting question and gives us the opportunity to discuss a very important aspect of palaeontology, trace fossils.  An Ichnologist is someone who studies trace fossils, those marks preserved in the fossil record that show evidence of the activity of organisms.  Trace fossils have a major advantage over body fossils.   Unlike body fossils that may be transported a long distance from where the original organism actually lived, most trace fossils are direct evidence of the environment at the time and the place the organism lived.  For example, dinosaur trackways show where dinosaurs actually walked.

The branch of geology that deals with the study of traces of organisms is called Ichnology.  Trace fossils include fossils of tracks, individual footprints, trails, burrows and borings.  Cave paintings made by our ancestors, as they are evidence of activity are classified as trace fossils.  The word Ichnology is derived from Latin and from Greek – ikhneumon “tracker” and from iknnos meaning “footstep”.

Cave Paintings – Trace Fossils of Humans

Picture Credit: French Ministry of Culture

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