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Dinosaur and alleged human trackways at Paluxy

About 30 years ago, I remember having a discussion on the importance of the Paluxy trackways. A friend remarked: " It requires only one human fossil to be found in Cretaceous rock, and the evolutionary timescale is devastated." He had been excited by the account of fossilised human "footprints" in Whitcomb and Morris's (1961) book The Genesis Flood. The feeling was shared by many: Dr Wilder-Smith was so intrigued by the account that he made a special trip to the Paluxy River, and his findings were incorporated into a subsequent book (1968). Later, the film "Footprints in Stone" appeared (1973), which documented the discovery of new tracks in a way that seemed irrefutable. I was sufficiently impressed by the film to have organised two separate showings of it. The Paluxy "footprints" have been given much publicity by creationists, and they have influenced the views of many people. John Morris took an interest in the tracks and authored an Impact article (1976) and a significant book (1980) defending the authenticity of several apparent man-tracks.

Nevertheless, there have always been some problems with the "human footprint" hypothesis: documentation by creationists has been almost entirely at the popular level. Furthermore, creationists seemed content to use the evidence to oppose evolutionary schemes without giving much thought as to how human footprints could have been made in the Paluxy rocks in a Diluvialist scenario of Earth history.

In 1971, Rusch published some cautionary words on the general subject of human footprints in rocks, but did not include the Paluxy prints in his discussion. Neufeld (1976) was a lone creationist voice in boldly saying that the prints are not good evidence for the coexistence of man and dinosaur. Burdick's reply (1976) expressed the view that the mantracks at Paluxy are "so well documented" that we ought to be moving on to new projects.

A further step to promote the man-track interpretation was taken by John Morris in 1980. He attempted to consolidate the work that had been carried out up to that time. He devoted many pages of his book to the problems of forgery, mistaken identity and so on, and concluded that "man and dinosaur walked together at the same time and place . . ." (p.191). Furthermore, Morris did, for the first time, attempt to formulate a Flood-scenario for the formation of the tracks. However, he did not address the legitimate concerns already expressed by Neufeld and it must be concluded that the work going into the book was inadequate to do justice to the subject matter.

Five years later, the Films for Christ Association, who produced the film "Footprints in Stone", withdrew it from circulation, after an on-site meeting at Paluxy. Six months after this, in January 1986, an ICR Impact article by John Morris concluded that it was improper for creationists to continue to use the Paluxy data as evidence against evolution. Some excerpts from this article follow.

"Due to an unknown cause, certain of the prints once labelled human are taking on a completely different character. The prints in the trail which I have called the "Taylor Trail", consisting of numerous readily visible elongated impressions in a left-right sequence, have changed into what appear to be tridactyl (three-toed) prints, evidently of some unidentified dinosaur."

"In view of these developments, none of the four trails at the Taylor site can today be regarded as unquestionably of human origin. The Taylor Trail appears, obviously, dinosaurian, as do two prints thought to be in the Turnage Trail. The Giant Trail has what appears to be dinosaur prints leading toward it, and some of the Ryals tracks seem to be developing claw features, also."

"The various controversial prints labelled as human by Carl Baugh in recent years are of uncertain origin, and at best are not comparable in quality to prints at the sites discussed above, thereby providing no support for the original position."

ICR subsequently received many letters and phone calls - some were complimentary, recognising the wisdom of openly admitting that a mistake has possibly been made; others considered the Morris article to be a sell-out to the evolutionists. ICR provided a 1-page statement on the matter in Acts and Facts (1986b), from which the following is taken.

"Scientists must always be willing to re-evaluate prior interpretations once new data become available. Creationists have rightly accused evolutionists of being closed-minded on key issues, and we cannot afford to become like them in this respect. Jesus Christ claimed to be the Truth, and since we follow Him, we must be lovers of truth."

With the benefit of hindsight, it has become apparent that a significant factor in the recognition of the dinosaurian status of all the genuine trackways has been the contribution of Glen Kuban. Kuban first went to the site as someone sympathetic to the "human footprint" interpretation, but his personal research persuaded him that this was a serious mistake. Kuban was involved in demonstrating to John Morris (and others) that dinosaurian features were characteristic of the alleged human footprints. The story was written up by Kuban in some detail in Origins Research (1986a).

Illustrations showing how three-toed dinosaurs produced elongate tracks

These illustrations are by Glen Kuban, showing how three-toed dinosaurs produced elongate tracks

Kuban makes it clear that he finds Morris’ account of events contrived. The evidences of dinosaur trackway infill has always been present – and the view that these tracks were taking on a "completely different character" is not supportable. These features had earlier been noted by Neufeld and Kuban well before 1985. Kuban’s critical analysis of Morris’ 1986 Impact article was also published in Origins Research (1986b). It should also be noted that claims about human footprints have also been made for erosional markings, ambiguous depressions and a handful of outright carvings. Two examples of the latter category are the "Burdick Print", which is discussed by Kuban and Wilkerson (1989-1996). The "Caldwell track" was analysed by Neufeld (1976) and shown to be a carving.

Whilst John Morris and others at ICR appear to have put the escapade behind them, the story of "human footprints" from Paluxy is by no means over! Investigations have been ongoing. One group of creationists has been led by Carl Baugh. He has been active in the area from the early 1980s, purchasing land and constructing a Creation Evidences Museum. He has maintained, up to the present day, that human footprints have been correctly identified and that new specimens are still being found. Carl Baugh has numerous financial supporters and several influential champions of his activities: the main people involved are Don Patton and Ken Hovind.

Baugh, Patton and Hovind have shown no interest in publishing their "findings" in a scholarly way. This has meant that peer review of their claims has been by-passed, and their popular literature, videos and web site materials create the impression that creationists are a bunch of deluded amateurs who specialise in sensational reporting and have no commitment to scholarship or science. Furthermore, some significant breaches of ethical conduct have taken place in order to prop up the façade of championing truth. For example, Baugh’s claims about his academic credentials appear to have changed with time and do not stand up well to scrutiny (Kuban, 1989). The most serious of these ethical breaches is the charge that is being made (on Don Patton's web site) that Glen Kuban has wilfully destroyed some fine "human footprints". Anyone who has any knowledge of Glen Kuban's exemplary contributions to Paluxy trackway research will regard these allegations as preposterous. Full details of these matters are available via web pages, and links are provided in the web version of this article. We have passed the stage where the activities of Baugh and his friends can be tolerated or ignored. Their activities are a cause of dishonour coming upon on the name of Christ and the need now is for repentance, confession and reformation.

Other investigations have cast light on some of the unusual features that the advocates of "human footprints" have stumbled over. The elongate tracks are not human, but were formed when the normal mode of a carnivorous dinosaur making tracks was replaced by a "plantigrade" mode. Instead of the dinosaur walking on its toes on the front part of its foot, the metatarsal was dropped and a long, elongate track was formed. This rare mode of behaviour is now known from other sites and there is no real understanding of why it should happen. The people searching for human footprints found plantigrade tracks and misidentified them.

Some advocates of human footprints have made much of "human footprints" appearing inside the tracks left by large theropods. Whether these reports have appeared in print, I do not know, but I have heard a strong defence of this position by a group of investigators in 1994. This misidentification hindered these people from reconstructing a fascinating scenario of predation that some of the Paluxy tracks appear to reveal. The research has been undertaken by Thomas and Farlow (1997), who draw an analogy with modern predators that adjust their stride to match that of their prey before striking.

Our primary purpose, in this commentary, is to learn from these developments and to draw out some implications for today.

1. The importance of careful, critical and comprehensive research

There seems to be a growing awareness among creationists that an apologetic directed primarily towards the general public leads to the alienation of the scientific community. Such an apologetic captures publicity, but it does not build scientists of the future. Furthermore, it has been too easy to hide poor science behind the banner of "creation science". Our aim should be to promote, not "creation science", but "good science"! Genuine research costs time and effort, and it gains the respect of others who recognise when someone has earned a right to be heard. If human footprints were to be found in Cretaceous rocks, detailed technical investigations would be warranted, but these have never been undertaken by the advocates of human footprints at Paluxy. Creationists are now reaping the bitter consequences.

2. The powerful influence of general 'models'

The idea of scientists sitting down before 'simple' facts without preconceptions and following wherever nature leads has always been a myth.

"Great thinkers are never passive before facts. They ask questions of nature; they do not follow her humbly. They have hopes and hunches, and they try hard to construct the world in their light. Hence, great thinkers also make great errors." (Gould, 1980, p.196)

The scenario dominating the thinking of Paluxy man-track investigators has been the Flood model of Whitcomb and Morris (1961). This model considers the Phanerozoic rocks from Cambrian to Pliocene (and some fossiliferous Precambrian strata also) to have been deposited in the Noahic Flood. Consequently, 'misplaced' fossils are expected in great numbers - and human fossils of various kinds have been sought (and reported) in all the great systems of the rock record. Creationists tend to be easily convinced - because the 'misplaced' fossils are required by the model.

To cite but one example: a few years ago, there was a flurry of excitement when one creationist reported finding human footprints in Ordovician rocks in the Lake District. I was able to visit the site and found a series of elongated depressions in tuffs (lithified volcanic ash). The surface of the rock did not follow a bedding plane, so the marks could not relate back to the time when the ash was falling. The marks were due to modern-day erosion. In this case, the conceptual model of the person who reported the footprints made him receptive to the idea that the marks were traces of ancient man.

Conceptual models are not, in themselves, a danger - they are a necessity. But we need to be aware of our 'models' so that we are more likely to guard against gullibility, jumping to conclusions, an uncritical attitude, and so on. Also, the question must be asked: "is the Whitcomb & Morris Flood scenario the only possible Diluvialist model?" A survey of creationist literature reveals that this is not the case and that a considerable number of alternatives are being explored. Recent issues of Origins give a far more satisfying context for the Paluxy trackways (Garton, 1991, 1997, 1998).

David J. Tyler


Burdick, C. 1976. Reaction to Neufeld. Origins. 3(1), 7-8. [published by the Geoscience Research Institute]
Garton, M. 1991, Rocks and Scripture: on the right track? Origins, 4(10), 3-8.
Garton, M. 1997. A Spanish weekend. Origins, No. 22, 11-24.
Garton, M. 1998. The real lifestyle of dinosaurs. Origins, No. 24, 14-22.
Gould, S.J. 1980. The Panda's Thumb. Penguin Books Ltd.: Harmondsworth.
Kuban, G. J., 1986a. The Taylor Site Man Tracks. Origins Research, 9(1): 1-9.
Kuban, G., 1986b. Review of ICR Impact article 151: Origins Research, 9(1): 10-15.
Kuban, G.J., 1989. A matter of degree. An examination of Carl Baugh's alleged credentials. NCSE Reports 9, No. 6.
Kuban, G. and Wilkerson, G. 1989-1996. The "Burdick Print". (accessed November 1999)
Morris, J. 1976. The Paluxy Rivertracks. Institute for Creation Research: Impact 35. (May)
Morris, J. 1980. Tracking those incredible dinosaurs. CLP Publishers: San Diego.
Morris, J.D. 1986a. The Paluxy River mystery. Institute for Creation Research: Impact 151. (Jan)
Morris, H.M. 1986b Following up on the Paluxy mystery. Acts and Facts. 15(3),7.
Neufeld, B. 1975. Dinosaur tracks and giant men. Origins, 2(2), 64-76. [published by the Geoscience Research Institute]
Rusch, W.H. Sr. 1971. Human footprints in rocks. Creation Research Society Quarterly. 7(4),201-213.
Taylor, S.E. 1973. Footprints in Stone (Film). Films for Christ, Inc.
Thomas, D.A. and Farlow, J.O. 1997, Tracking a dinosaur attack, Scientific American, 277(6), 48-53.
Whitcomb, J.C. and Morris, H.M., 1961. The Genesis Flood. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Philadelphia.
Wilder-Smith, A. 1968. Man's Origin, Man's Destiny. Harold Shaw Co.: Wheaton. (135f, 293f)

Web links:

Baugh’s credentials http://members.aol.com/paluxy2/degrees.htm

The Taylor Site "Man Tracks" Glen J. Kuban Origins Research, Vol. 9, No. 1, Spring/Summer 1986, pp. 2-10.

Review of ICR Impact Article 151 Glen J. Kuban Origins Research, Spring/Summer 1986, Vol. 9, No. 1

The "Burdick Print" Glen J. Kuban and Gregg Wilkerson (1989-1996)

"Dinosaur Tracks and Giant Men" Berney Neufeld Origins, 2(2):64-76 (1975).

Creation Evidences Museum (Carl Baugh)

Other creationist perspectives on the Paluxy Tracks

Arthur V. Chadwick, 1987, Of dinosaurs and men Origins 14(1):33-40

What about Carl Baugh? (Comment from Answers in Genesis)

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