Creation/Evolution Journal

Paluxy Man -- The Creationist Piltdown

Creationists, by citing examples of fossils that are supposed to be in the wrong order for evolution, often try to prove that the geological time scale is in error. In particular, they claim that human footprints have been found in rocks containing traces of dinosaurs and other animals that died out millions of years before humans actually appeared on the earth. As we shall see, however, these alleged footprints are either natural objects that have nothing to do with humans or are deliberate frauds. On the whole, the leading creationist authors are intelligent and sincere, but it seems that they have a very strong will to believe when it comes to defending their model.

Ingalls's Paleozoic Footprints

One example of this occurs in Genesis Flood, in which the authors, Whitcomb and Morris, quote Alfred Ingalls in an attempt to prove that human footprints have been found in some American Paleozoic rocks—200 million years too early to fit into evolutionary chronology. Ingalls, however, doubted the authenticity of these footprints. For this, Whitcomb and Morris accused him of intellectual dishonesty:

Ingalls and others have tried to explain the prints as modern Indian carvings or as prints made of some as yet undiscovered Carboniferous amphibian. Such explanations illustrate the methods by which uniformitarians can negate even the most plain and powerful evidence in opposition to their philosophy. Nevertheless, it is obvious that it is only the philosophy and not the objective scientific evidence that would prevent one from accepting these prints as of true human origin (p. 173).

The only problem is that the footprints in Ingalls's photographs are highly stylized petroglyphs that even an untrained observer could scarcely mistake for real human footprints. Therefore I don't think anyone is being intellectually dishonest for suspecting that Ingalls' footprints were made with human hands instead of human feet.

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The Paluxy River Tracks

According to many creationists, human footprints and dinosaur footprints are found side by side in the Cretaceous limestone of the Paluxy River near Glen Rose, Texas. This is the "find" most frequently stressed in creationist literature, so it will be useful to cover it in some detail.

To correctly analyze these tracks, it is first necessary to understand a few facts about the Paluxy River site. Most of the dinosaur prints that have been found there are genuine. Many show clear, large ridges of mud squished up all around the footprint. Scientists confirm that during Cretaceous times the withdrawing sea left a swampy area in which dinosaurs left tracks in the sediment. Under the sun, these tracks were baked solid in the mud. Flooding rivers later buried the tracks under more sediments.

The Paluxy River today is a fast-flowing river which sometimes dries up totally and at other times floods strongly enough to carry downstream four-ton slabs of limestone. When the river dries up, prehistoric dinosaur tracks can become exposed to view, such as those Roland T. Bird excavated and removed to the American Museum of Natural History in the 1930s. In times of flooding, the river dumps limestone slabs and debris on top of previously exposed prints. According to Beierle (1977), this is why John Green and Dr. Jack Walper had to reexcavate some "human footprints" in 1976, which had been excavated only a few years earlier for the creationist film, Footprints in Stone.

Among the prints that have been removed from this site are half a dozen detailed humanlike footprints and two large "saber-tooth cat tracks." These are frequently mentioned in creationist works. However, upon later examination, they have all turned out to be probable or actual hoaxes. Flood geologist Clifford Burdick has described these prints, and Beierle (1974, 1977) and Whitcomb and Morris show pictures of them in order to prove that humans and dinosaurs lived together at the same time. Burdick owns one "man track" and one "cat track"; the rest have been sent to the museum of Columbia Union College in Takoma Park, Maryland. Burdick's prints could easily have been carved, and those at Columbia Union College definitely were.

Burdick's prints have been cross-sectioned, and the results are ambiguous. John D. Morris claims that these cross sections prove that the prints are genuine. He reasons that, if the tracks were carvings, they would be scooped out and would slice across horizontal strata. He claims that the cross sections show that the laminations of the rock follow the contours of the print. However, Seventh-day Adventist geologist Berney Neufeld offers a different version:

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Clifford Burdick, a consulting geologist from Tucson, Arizona, has a manlike track and a catlike track. Both have been sectioned and the evidence is equivocal. Some cross sections have a slight indication of carving; others of conformation. The difficulty with these tracks is that they are in blocks of limestone whose pattern is more mottled than layered.

Neufeld demonstrates by documentation that the Columbia Union College prints are nothing but clever carvings:

Dr. Don Jones of Columbia Union College, Takoma Park, Maryland, has a number of tracks whose origin is reported as the Paluxy River. The collection includes a right and left human footprint, a pair of three-toed dinosaur tracks, and a large cat print. . . . All of these, in separate blocks, appear to be in the same type of limestone. They also have a single human track of inferior quality that is in a limestone of a different color and texture from that of the other
prints. . . . One of the three-toed dinosaur tracks and both types of man prints have been cross-sectioned. In each instance the rock layers end abruptly at the edge of the track, indicating that they are not the result of a foot stepping into soft mud but are produced by carving.

Both Morris and Neufeld admit that these prints were carved during the Great Depression. Neufeld says:

Local old-timers in the Paluxy River area tell that the tracks were both excavated and carved as a source of income during the Depression years. Both of these collections [the Burdick prints and the Columbia Union College prints] may well be carvings of that period.

And John D. Morris says:

Accusations have arisen from still another front. Skeptics have claimed that the prints are carvings, not real prints at all. Unfortunately, this charge has some basis; in fact, several enterprising Texans from Glen Rose did make their living during the Great Depression by digging out the best tracks and selling them. The going price ranged from ten dollars to twenty-five dollars, and the dinosaur tracks were much more in demand than the man tracks. Soon, however, the best tracks were gone, and a few men began to carve new tracks (especially dinosaur tracks) out of any limestone block available. As near as researchers can determine, however, only a very few "man tracks" were carved—probably less than six, certainly less than ten. These were all giant tracks, ranging from sixteen to twenty inches in length, and showed all features of the foot. These counterfeit tracks do not, of course, disprove the genuine tracks. In fact, it could only have been the existence of genuine tracks that made the manufacture of counterfeits profitable.

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However, John D. Morris's "genuine" prints are not very impressive. Two series of elongated tracks are often considered to be human, but Neufeld points out that some of the tracks in these series are the eroded remnants of three-toed dinosaur prints; since the dinosaur placed most of its weight on its middle toe, the side toes of the tracks are a little shallower and erode away more easily, yet some of the tracks in these series retain traces of the side toes. The rest are simply erosional marks in eroded undulating rock, most of which do not appear, in any photos, to have anything around them that resembles squish marks. John D. Morris inadvertently admits that the tracks are not impressive:

A number of individuals have gone to Glen Rose to see whether there are any human tracks there, and have been unable to find them, reporting then to outsiders that the whole story is fallacious. The problem was simply that they did not know where to look. Many, of course, were skeptical and tended to jump to conclusions too quickly. The fact is, however, that there really are many tracks there which, to all appearances, were made by real human beings who lived at the same time as the dinosaurs.

Beierle (1974) admits that tracks often cannot be seen unless they are wetted: "These individuals were pointing to a series of tracks; but, without wetting-out, the tracks are difficult to see and [are] usually passed over by the untrained observer."

But even trained observers, such as paleontologists, have been unable to detect the presence of human footprints, even when standing right over those impressions in question. Neufeld explains why this is understandable:

Often, in order to contrast the tracks with the surrounding rocks for photographic purposes, they [the tracks] have been painted with oil. The tracks appear to have soaked up some of the oil and now contrast with the matrix even without treatment. In my opinion, these footprints are not tracks at all but represent random erosion marks in the surface of the limestone plate. The surrounding surface is covered with erosional marks of almost every imaginable shape. Individuals have reported visualizing the tracks of practically any mammal species on this surface. . . . It is only with a great deal of imagination that a bipedal trackway can be seen at all.

Therefore, when the carved tracks and eroded dinosaur prints have been accounted for, no one would ever suspect that any other "human" tracks existed unless some creationist painted the "toe" and "heel" with oil or water and called it a "human footprint."

Regardless of proof to the contrary, creationists still accept the "man prints" as evidence. However, once they do accept them, they still have to find a way to fit them into their flood geology model. This isn't as easy as it seems. The flood geologist actually has more trouble explaining how these "footprints" formed than does the orthodox geologist. Are we to imagine that a tidal wave from Noah's flood dumped over two thousand meters of sediment in the Paluxy) River valley, that people and dinosaurs ran around making tracks and that another tidal wave miraculously covered the tracks without obliterating them in the process? John D. Morris vaguely admits the difficulty:

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The main problem of geologic origin for biblical catastrophists stems from the fact that underlying the Paluxy River basin is nearly eighty-five hundred feet of sedimentary rock. According to the catastrophic model, this must all have been laid down by the flood of Noah's day. The problem is how could man and dinosaurs witness such massive deposition at the beginning stages of the flood and survive long enough to leave their prints so high up in the geologic column?

Morris admits that the rocks are marine and not postdiluvian. He speculates that the dinosaurs and humans survived on the Llano Uplift, located twenty-five miles from Glen Rose; this sediment-free precambrian rock structure was supposedly above water during the earlier stages of the flood. However, a tidal wave strong enough to carry so much muck in suspension would surely have splashed over the Llano Uplift.

Despite all these contradictions, however, John Morris still insists that "so much evidence has come from Glen Rose, indicating a vast discrepancy in the geologic timetable, that those who disagree with the conclusions must fit into one of two categories: [those who] have not sufficiently studied the evidence or [those who] have not studied it with an open mind."

The only problem with this claim is that, even though the Seventh-day Adventists have a vested interest in proving creationism to be valid, they have rejected the Paluxy River data. And other fundamentalist and creationist colleges have seconded the verdict that the "human prints" are either human carvings or nonhuman impressions.

Typical Frauds

The idea of frauds and errors is nothing new in paleontology. The Piltdown and Calavaras hoaxes are particularly famous examples from the past. It would therefore not be surprising to find that the alleged human footprints of the creationists were frauds or errors as well.

In the case of the Piltdown hoax, someone filed down and artificially filled some of the teeth, broke off the rest, and then broke off the articulation of a modern immature orangutan jaw. They then stained it brown and placed it, along with pieces of a fossilized fifty-thousand-year-old skull of modern man, where it could be discovered. This was in Piltdown, England. When the "find" was first discovered, many scientists accepted it as genuine. This was an easy mistake to make, given that the jaw of an immature ape has a fairly humanlike structure.

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Furthermore, the teeth looked as though they had the wear pattern of humans instead of apes and the artificial filling of the teeth looked like the "secondary dentine" that forms in human teeth as they wear down. When some evolutionists finally discovered that the jawbone was really a doctored ape jaw, many scientists were shocked. Since then, however, the discovery of genuine hominid fossils has allowed science to work out human evolutionary history without the nonexistent "Piltdown man."

Now let us consider the Calavaras hoax. In tertiary times, the Stanislaus River of California flowed from the Sierra Nevadas through a different course than it does today; it went through a hilly terrain with tropical forests. One day, an erupting volcano sent a lava flow down into the river, which continued down the sinuous river valley a certain distance before cooling and hardening. The hills in time eroded away, leaving the lava as an elevated area known today as Table Mountain.

During the gold rush, gold was found in the prehistoric river bed under Table Mountain. As a result, many mines were carved there. In one tunnel, a skull, some arrowheads, and other stone tools were found in 1866. The skull was called "Calaveras man" after the county in which it was found.

Cole and Cole say that the owner of the mine called in some scholars to investigate. The investigation revealed that, whereas the other bones in the sand were clearly water-worn, the skull and the arrowheads showed no such signs. The skull also had clay under the cheekbones, yet nowhere else in the gravely environment was there any clay. Modern snails were found embedded in the clay. It was considered unlikely that the prehistoric river would have washed all those bones into a single spot such as what was found. To top it off, the skull and artifacts wer, e found to be exactly like those of modern California Indians. MacDougall adds that John C. Scribner, a local shopkeeper, planted the skull. After he died, his sister and pastor told how he had confessed his fraud to them.

In light of this data, it is strange that standard creationist texts, such as Scientific Creationism (Henry Morris, p. 177), Handy Dandy Evolution Refuter (Robert Kofahl, pp. 78-79), and The Creation Explanation (Kofahl and Segraves, pp. 120-125), still take Calavaras man seriously. They try to argue that this modern human skull was found in prehistoric tertiary strata, thus upsetting the evolutionary chronology. On the other hand, these same authors never let evolutionists forget the Piltdown hoax. Knowing about this double standard, we should not be too surprised if some creationists continue to believe in Paluxy man despite the weakness of their evidence.

Of course, some creationists act persecuted if one suggests that their Paluxy tracks may be fraudulent. But this seems to be part of a double standard too, since creationists in general are not very kind to their opponents. Creationists such as R. Daniel Shaw, author of "Fossil Man: Ancestor or Descendant of Adam?" in Speak to the Earth, and Robert E. Kofahl insist that Eugene Dubois suppressed some modern skulls that he found with his Java man skull because he realized that these other fossils disproved his theory.

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The two modem skulls were actually found at Wadjak—eighty kilometers from Trinil, where he found the Java man skull. Shaw and Kofahl also insist that Peking man is a hoax and that the scientists at Choukoutien contrived to have the Peking man fossils lost at the beginning of World War II to keep their fraudulent photographs and plaster casts from being exposed. However, the Peking and Java skulls are certainly not the only evidence for Homo erectus; Richard Leakey has found an excellent specimen of Homo erectus at Lake Turkana in Kenya, and numerous other specimens have been found throughout the old world. But in light of this creationist attack, I don't think it is unfair to apply careful scientific analysis and criticism to the creationist footprint finds and then reasonably conclude that Paluxy man is indeed the creationist Piltdown.

By Christopher Gregory Weber
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.