"It puzzled me for a time, until I looked through my dinosaur book that has the skeletal anatomy. I was astonished. It was a perfect match." A "match," that is, for a Hypsilophodon.
On another track-hunting trip in May 2002, after a rainstorm had eroded a creek bed in White Marsh, Stanford found a second example, and this time recognized it immediately.
Combined with a third specimen that Weems pulled from the Patuxent formation near Fredericksburg, Va., the finds were enough to support a persuasive journal article.
"There's no other dinosaur that has that particular combination of hand and foot patterns and small foot size," Weems said. "That's what gives it away."
Scientists can guess from Hypsilophodon's fossil bones what its footprints might have looked like, he said.
"But this is the first time we've ever seen the footprints, and effectively the feet, of this particular family. It fills in a hole. In a way, it's kind of surprising it hasn't been filled before."
The discovery also adds another family to the growing list of species known to have lived in the region.
"In all, we've probably got, between Maryland and Virginia, probably eight or nine kinds of dinosaurs," he said. "That's a pretty decent fauna."
Ray Stanford can be contacted at dinotracker@ earthlink.net