On April 18, 2021, the Northeast Archeological Resources Program posted a picture on their Facebook page of what appears to be a four-digit foot or handprint embedded in rock. The digits appeared to end in claws. The NARP fueled a creative interpretation by suggesting it was a dinosaur (velociraptor) print. But it’s not.
The natural explanation is that it is a “pseudo-fossil” – an impression in the rock that resembles remains of a living creature. Or, in this case, a pseudo-ichnofossil or “trace fossil” as preserved tracks are called.
This really is a weird one. It’s not obvious what created the erosion or irregularity of the rock. I recall in one place known for dinosaur footprints, I did find that someone had deliberately carved a three-toed design into the rock to trick people. This one appears to have smoothed edges and was not carved, at least not recently. There is a slight chance that this might a petroglyph carved long ago, but that is not the consensus view.
Sometimes, other minerals that were present in the main rock erode away, leaving their remains, or, as an article from the Charlotte Observer on April 24, 2021 notes, “forces of wind, water, and time” can sculpt the rock into curious shapes.
Dinosaur prints are not that unusual but this specimen is not of the time and location to be an animal print nor does the print match up with any animal track. Velociraptor prints have not been authenticated anywhere because it’s too hard to connect trackways with extinct animals. They aren’t around to compare to the leftover impressions. In life, feet have padding that is not preserved (usually) in fossils. But it appears these dinosaurs would have only had three toes up front (one facing backwards) with one of the three that held the big claw likely held up off the ground. The resulting print in soft ground would have looked more like these:
Surprisingly, this mysterious print feature was NOT initially interpreted as a demon or devil’s handprint. Such marks, however vague, are very popular worldwide, and are typically connected to local tales of when the “the devil came to these parts” and left his mark. I suppose dinosaurs are more present in the public imagination these days.
This is definitely awesome and spooky. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the specific location of this print is left undisclosed but is likely in New England where the NARP is located (Massachusetts).