When a retired geologist visited Belmont, Gari Melchers Home and Studio in Stafford County last summer, he spent some time wandering its grounds.
As someone who’s found his share of imprints and fossils in rock, Robert E. Weems found his eyes drawn to the flagstones and walkways of Patuxent sandstone, which he knew could contain dinosaur footprints.
“I took some time looking at the stones and realized that some did contain dinosaur footprints,” said Weems, a retiree from the United States Geological Survey who is now the research associate and frequent paleontologist of Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, Md.
He returned a short time later with two associates to find what he called “a considerable number of footprints.” He’ll give a presentation and lead a walking tour at 2 p.m. today of those fossilized imprints.
Beate Jensen, Belmont’s cultural resource manager, said she was thrilled to learn that Weems had found the dinosaur tracks in the stone at Belmont, much of which she said, came from the ruins of Mannsfield, a mansion a few miles south of Fredericksburg on Tidewater Trail.
Jensen said she was eager to invite Weems to give Sunday’s presentation and “thrilled about this discovery, as it adds another layer of significance to our already history-rich site.”
In an email, Weems noted that he had published a paper on Patuxent Formation dinosaur footprints recently, with Jon Bachman, Stratford Hall’s educational events coordinator, “so I had a pretty good idea what most of these prints are.”
He added, “Even so, a couple of them are new finds for this area, so we now have more to write about in the future.”
Bachman and Weems, an often published geologist and paleontologist, discovered an outcropping of sandstone rich in dinosaur footprints just downstream from the Mannsfield location in 2010, and tracks at another site as well.
FROM CREATURES’ HEYDAY
Of the footprints he found more recently at Belmont, Weems said they are “about 110 million years old and date from the Cretaceous Period, during pretty much the heyday of dinosaurs.”
He identified prints at Belmont as being of the following dinosaurs: Amblydactylus, Hypsiloichnus, Tetrapodosaurus and a Brontopodus.
He noted that the Fredericksburg area dinosaur footprints “are the first Cretaceous footprints to show up in Virginia, though a great many have been found in Maryland.”
He said that most of the other dinosaur footprints in the Fredericksburg area are in remote and difficult-to-reach areas, “so it is gratifying that the ones at Belmont are ease to see and are readily accessible.”
He said that if weather cooperates the time of today’s program, “everyone can get to see a number of tracks. In any case, my talk will let everyone know the story of this new chapter in the prehistory of Virginia.”
Jensen noted that it takes a bit of a careful eye to find the prints on the flagstones, which staffers may well flip over and examine further in the near future to look for more tracks.
Jensen noted that Mannsfield was built in 1776 by Mann Page as a gift to his wife Mary Tayloe of Mount Airy in Richmond County. She said that the house burned during the Civil War, and the stone ruins were sold to various people in the early years of the 20th century.
Some of them ended up in other local buildings, including ones in downtown Fredericksburg, according to a blog written by Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park cultural resource managers and historians.
While she hopes anyone with an interest will attend Sunday’s introduction to Belmont’s dinosaur tracks, Jensen said that Weems’ talk and walk is probably not for tykes or any of the very young who would have trouble sitting still for his talk.