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The Paluxy Paradox: Did Dinosaurs and Men Walk Together?

Dinosaur trackways, like these in Connecticut, can tell scientists stories about the way the animals lived. Do some tracks at Paluxy tell any even more fantastic story though?

It was around 1910 when two boys, out for a day of fishing, made a fascinating discovery. Charlie and Grady Moss were walking along the Paluxy River near Glen Rose, Texas, when they spotted something strange on a limestone shelf. There they found a series of tracks imprinted into the rock. Immense tracks of a creature with three toes. Scientists would later identify this animal as a large theropod dinosaur named Acrocanthosaurus. Nearby the three-toed tracks was something even more amazing: A series of oblong footprints in the stone that looked like it came from a giant man.

The "giant man tracks," as Charlie described them, quickly became local curiosities. It wasn't until much later that the incredible contradictions such a find would mean came to the attention of the scientific world. If indeed there were human footprints fossilized into the same rock as dinosaur footprints then it must mean that dinosaurs lived at the same time as men. Such a find would totally upset the geological timetable as it was known. Either dinosaurs hadn't died out 65 million years ago as generally thought, or man had come onto the Earth much earlier than any scientific theory would allow.

Dinosaur Trackways

Dinosaur tracks were first spotted along the Wheeler Branch of the Paluxy river after a heavy flood in the valley in 1908. A local teenager named Ernest Adams discovered a series of three-toed tracks. However scientists were slow to recognized the value of such tracks (which are part of a class of fossils called trace fossils) but in the early 1980s they began to realize that a series of footprints could tell them a story about the way living, breathing dinosaurs behaved that fossil bones could not.

A series of fossil tracks, known as a trackway, can show scientists whether the animal moved on two legs or four, was running or walking, and traveled with its legs sprawled out or under its hips. The size of the feet and the length of the stride can also be used to calculate a rough estimate of how fast the creature was moving. Several trackways in close proximity to one another can tell us how one animal related with others. Was it walking as part of a herd? Was it chasing another animal? Or perhaps being chased?

Such fossil tracks are typically formed when an animal walks across a soft, moist, fine-grained sediment. As the animal steps, its feet sink into the ground leaving impressions. If the tracks lie undisturbed till the sediment hardens, another deposit of sediment can then wash over the tracks and cover them. Over time these sediment layers harden into rock. As the rock erodes downward the tracks are eventually exposed. Depending on the conditions when the tracks were formed the impressions can range from clear to indistinct.

In theory, dinosaur tracks can be found in any rock strata laid down in the Mesozoic era when dinosaurs were alive, but conditions at the actual time the tracks are made are critical to their creation. There are over a thousand known locations where dinosaurs tracks can be found around the world.

In the 1930's, during the Great Depression, some of the residents of Glen Rose began to supplement their incomes by chiseling out dinosaur tracks from the riverbed and selling them to passing tourists. There are also reports that some of Charlie Moss's "giant man tracks" were also removed and sold. In the same era a few of the area's entrepreneurs not only sold the real dinotracks, but started carving new ones on loose stone and selling those. In addition to carved dinosaurs tracks, apparently some "giant man tracks" were also created by carving and were passed off on visiting sightseers.

In 1938 one pair of these carved "man tracks" wound up at a trading post in Gallup, New Mexico. There they caught the eye of Roland Bird, a paleontologist with the American Museum of Natural History. Checking in some other nearby shops Bird also found carved dinosaur tracks. He recognized them as being carvings rather than actual tracks, but he was intrigued by what the carvers might have seen that had inspired them to make the fakes. Finding that the carving originated in the Glen Rose region, he decided to stop there on his way back to New York City.

Bird soon found a number of trackways of three-toed dinosaurs in the Paluxy riverbed. Then he discovered huge bathtub-sized tracks of sauropods (long-necked, long-tailed dinosaurs that walked on four legs) in the same region. Bird investigated the "giant man tracks" but only saw one. It was a large indistinct oblong impression with a curiously-shaped heel that he judged to be made by a "hitherto unknown dinosaur or reptile."

Burdick's Assertions

In the 1950's Bird's work with the dinosaur tracks at Glen Rose came to the attention of a man named Clifford Burdick. Burdick supported a theory that the earth was only 15,000 years old and thought that if there were dinosaur tracks intermixed with human tracks it would show that the standard geological timetable generally accepted by science was wrong. Burdick visited the Paluxy, decided he'd seen some man tracks in the rock and in 1950 wrote an article about them entitled When Giants Roamed the Earth for the magazine Signs of the Times.

Burdick's article, however, implied that Bird had found what he (Bird) considered to be man tracks, when he had not. Also, in the pictures that Burdick had of the tracks, only the loose rock (which Bird thought to be carvings) specimens really looked anything like man prints. The pictures of tracks still in place in the riverbed appeared to be three-toed dinosaur tracks, or they were indistinct.

The Burdick article, despite its inaccuracies, generated interest in the site among people supporting the idea that dinosaurs and humans walked the earth together. In the 1970's a man named Stanley Taylor filmed a documentary about the "man tracks" called Footprints in Stone. Though Taylor wasn't taken in by the carved man tracks collected by Bird, he found a number of the strange oblong prints in the riverbed and put them in the documentary, interpreting them as human footprints.

At about the same time Taylor was doing his filming a group of investigators from Loma Linda University came to investigate the "man tracks." Though they were supporters of the theory that the earth had only a short history, they reached an opposite conclusion from Burdick: Some of the "man tracks" found in the riverbed had a strange shape due to erosion, but they were all typical bipedal dinosaur tracks. Others were not tracks at all, but just areas were the rock had eroded in strange shapes. Of the loose stones the team examined with tracks in them, they determined that they where all likely carved hoaxes.

In 1979 the stories about the "man tracks" reached the ears of a biology student at the College of Wooster in Ohio named Glen Kuban. Kuban and a companion, Tim Bartholomew, traveled to Glen Rose to take a look at the fossils for themselves. They found, as the Loma Linda team had asserted, some were not tracks at all, but just eroded sections of rock. Other tracks, found at the site Taylor had filmed for Footprints in Stone, did seem oddly human in shape. On close examination the men determined that they were not human, but as the Loma Linda team reported, made by a dinosaur. In many cases the three-toed mark of a dinosaur foot was visible with careful examination, though the outer two toes showed up only vaguely. Erosion didn't seem to explain why the marks looked as human as they did, however. Kuban and Bartholomew began to suspect there was something special about these prints, especially the elongated heel. Either the dinosaur didn't have a typical dinosaur foot, or the dinosaur was walking in an unusual manner.

Metatarsal Prints

Kuban made casts of the tracks and studied them carefully over the next few months. He came to the conclusion that the animal wasn't walking as it usually would with most of its weight on its toes. Instead it was walking "flat-footed" (often referred to as metatarsal because of the part of the dinosaur's foot involved) putting more weight on the back than on the front. This explained the elongated heel and the lighter toe impressions.

Before Kuban could publish his findings new claims arose that fossil man tracks had been found at Paluxy. In 1982 a man named Carl Baugh got involved, claiming he had found human fossil footprints. None of Baugh's discoveries proved to be actual human footprints, however. Some were the strange metatarsal dinosaur prints found in other places, others were shallow depressions with only a vague resemblance to human tracks.

Almost no scientists supported Baugh's conclusions, but he continued to search the area for fossil indications of human habitation during the dinosaur era. He later produced a supposed human tooth (which turned out to be from a fish) along with other objects, none of which could be shown to have come from the Paluxy site and strata.

More evidence that the strange metatarsal prints were actually from dinosaurs was found that same year during another visit by Glen Kuban to Glenn Rose. Kuban was shown by a local rancher named Alfred West some tracks on West's property that bordered the Paluxy. Several of the trackways there displayed dinosaur footprints as the creatures switched from a normal step to the metatarsal step and back. Also, the edges of some of the metatarsal steps in those trackways had collapsed, leaving an indistinct, but very human-looking print.

In 1984 additional evidence of the dinosaur nature of some the prints was found when Kuban and Ron Hastings (another researcher) noticed independently that some of the metatarsal footprints had left and right dinosaur toe marks not outlined by indentations in the rock, but by a slightly different coloration of the material. They suspected and later confirmed that the outer toes of the dinosaur tracks in ancient times had filled with a sediment of a slightly different composition than the material into which the actual footprint had been imprinted. When the footprints had been exposed, the center portion had weathered-out more quickly than the outer toes, but the shape of the toes could still be discerned by the coloration. This coloration became more pronounced over time as the material in the tracks turned a rust-like color due to its high iron content.

The prints at the West site, the coloration markings of the tracks, and a pair of papers written by Kuban on the subject pretty much closed the book on the supposed human Paluxy prints. Stan Taylor's son stopped distributing the film Footprints in Stone, and at least one author, John Morris, whose book heavily promoted the evidence of human footprints at Paluxy, stopped the sale of his work.

Final Mystery

That perhaps left only one question to be answered: Why did the dinosaurs walk in such a flat-footed fashion? Surely not just to confuse humans many years later. Some possibilities are that the animals were walking in a crouched position foraging for food, or stalking prey. Another explanation might be that some dinosaurs may have walked in this fashion in an attempt to get a better footing on the slippery sediment (just as people sometimes do when they are walking on ice).

So did humans walk with the dinosaurs? There are still people that support this theory saying that the either earth is younger than the standard geological timetable indicates, or that man has been around a lot longer than science thinks. However, if these theories are someday be proven true, it will have to be with different evidence than the famed Paluxy human fossil footprints.

Copyright Lee Krystek 2002. All Rights Reserved.


A Partial Bibliography

On the Heels of Dinosaurs by Glen Kuban, http://members.aol.com/Paluxy2/onheel.htm.

An Overview of Dinosaur Tracking by Glen J. Kuban, M.A.P.S. Digest, April 1994, Mid-America Paleontology Society, also http://members.aol.com/Paluxy2/ovrdino.htm

Science and Earth History-The Evolution/Creation Controversy by Arthur N. Strahler,. Prometheus Books, 1987.

The Paluxy River Mystery by John D. Morris, Ph.D. Institute for Creation Research, also http://www.icr.org/pubs/imp/imp-151.htm

The Unexplained by Jerome Clark, Visable Ink Press, 1999.

Material in support of dinoaurs and human activity in same strata:

The Taylor Trail: A series of 14 sequential human footprints on the same platform with at least 134 dinosaur tracks, www.bible.ca at http://www.bible.ca/tracks/taylor-trail.htm

 

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