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The Reverend Henry Duncan (1774-1846) and the Discovery of the First Fossil Footprints

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The Reverend Henry Duncan (1774-1846), clergyman, philosopher, writer, politician, archeologist, poet, educator, social reformer, and the founder of savings banks, was indeed a "Man for All Seasons." In 1824, while Minister of the Church of Scotland at Ruthwell, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, he was presented with a slab of red sandstone from the Corncockle Muir quarry in Annandale, exhibiting a set of footprints. Although Duncan felt from the start that he was dealing with the tracks of an animal, he wrote to the Reverend William Buckland, Reader in Mineralogy and Geology at the University of Oxford, to solicit his opinion on the origin of these curious markings. Buckland was at first skeptical but, after receiving casts of the markings from Duncan, he became convinced that they did in fact represent footprints, urging Duncan to study and publish on what he considered to be a very important paleontological find.

On January 7, 1828 Duncan described the Corncockle Muir footprints to the Royal Society of Edinburgh and quoted Buckland's findings. Duncan's paper was not published by the Society until 1831, but it aroused considerable interest and was reported in several newspapers. This represents the first scientific report of a fossil track.
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Keywords: Henry Duncan; Permian; William Buckland; reptile tracks

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Ichnology Research Group, Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Publication date: 01 April 2003

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