Did dinosaurs have feathers? Great Falls Discovery Center hosts prehistoric exhibit

  • Russell Kriete, left, looks on as his grandson Andy Kriete, 3, creates an imitation dinosaur footprint fossil at the exhibit, Reading the Rocky Book of the Past: Dinosaur Footprints in the Connecticut River Valley, on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018 at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Reba-Jean Shaw-Pichette, right, plays the historical role of Orra White Hitchcock while Anthony Bilotta, 11, tries his hand at botanical drawing and painting during the exhibit, Reading the Rocky Book of the Past: Dinosaur Footprints in the Connecticut River Valley, on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018 at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Antony Castro, 4, uses a magnifying glass to explore the exhibit, Reading the Rocky Book of the Past: Dinosaur Footprints in the Connecticut River Valley, on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018 at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Visitors to the Great Falls Discovery Center attend the exhibit, Reading the Rocky Book of the Past: Dinosaur Footprints in the Connecticut River Valley, on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018 in Turners Falls. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Jenna Evans and her son Jensen, 3, explore the exhibit, Reading the Rocky Book of the Past: Dinosaur Footprints in the Connecticut River Valley, on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018 at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Magnifying glasses used to explore the exhibit, Reading the Rocky Book of the Past: Dinosaur Footprints in the Connecticut River Valley, on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018 at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • The exhibit, Reading the Rocky Book of the Past: Dinosaur Footprints in the Connecticut River Valley, on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018 at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

Recorder Staff
Published: 2/17/2018 6:59:09 PM

TURNERS FALLS — One winter day in 1835, Dexter Marsh was laying slabs of sidewalk on Bank Row in Greenfield. In one of those slabs, he noticed a set of bird-like footprints.

He thought they were peculiar, but certainly from a bird. Unknowingly, Marsh had stumbled across some of the first dinosaur footprints found in the United States.

Marsh, like local geologist Edward Hitchcock, would go on to leave his mark on paleontology, although he did not know it. Now, Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls is recognizing their contributions to the field with its exhibit called, Reading the Rocky Book of the Past: Dinosaur Footprints in the Connecticut River Valley.

“It’s our history, the whole Pioneer Valley,” said Sarah Doyle, coordinator of the Jurassic Roadshow, which showcases dinosaur footprints at different stops along the Connecticut River, including Great Falls Discovery Center.

Doyle said she wants the legacies of Marsh and Hitchcock, two local greats, to be well-preserved. She also wants more people to pay attention to the Pioneer Valley’s impact on paleontology, given its many dinosaur track sites.

“When I first came out here, I didn’t understand why people didn’t know about them,” Doyle said. “Only certain people did.”

The Reading the Rocky Book of the Past exhibit contains informational panels and pictures detailing Marsh’s and Hitchcock’s discoveries.

It also features activities for people of all ages to learn about paleontology, such as a make-your-own-fossil station, where toy dinosaurs are walked across clay which will later harden, preserving the footprints.

One such attraction is a table where children can make their own “cabinet of curiosities,” filling it with different rocks.

“Dexter Marsh built a room on the side of his house, where he kept all kinds of things in his cabinet of curiosities,” said Sheila Damkoehler of Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, who put together the exhibit.

“It had all kinds of things, dinosaur tracks, other things, shells, Native American artifacts,” Damkoehler said.

Indeed, when Marsh had found his dinosaur tracks — before the word “dinosaur” was even invented — he kept them in the same place as a slew of different items relating to archaeology, geology or paleontology.

Hitchcock, who became the third president of Amherst College, did the same. Before the proliferation of science museums, cabinets of curiosities were where people went to see nature’s treasures. But no one, not Hitchcock, nor Marsh, nor the scientists who initially examined their finds, had large reptilian beasts on their minds when seeing the tracks.

“Edward Hitchcock went to his death thinking they were birds,” Damkoehler said.

However, there is some debate among scientists now as to whether or not dinosaurs had feathers, Doyle said, and evidence suggests they were related to modern birds.

“He wasn’t as far off as people might have thought,” Damkoehler said.

Other features in the exhibit include a sample of a 19th century newspaper which detailed some of the findings and recreations of Hitchcock’s fossil “books.” According to Damkoehler, Hitchcock kept the rocks with dinosaur footprints in a manner similar to pages in a book; observers could flip through the rocky “pages,” and examine the indents of particular footprints.

Marsh’s footprint discovery and Hitchcock’s track book are held in the Beneski Museum of Natural History at Amherst College. Reading the Rocky Book of the Past will be held at the Great Falls Discovery Center until April 1. Admission is free.

You can reach David McLellan at: dmclellan@recorder.com




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