Found in the Cretaceous limestone of the Paluxy River basin in Texas, the Paluxy footprints are tracks— genuine, forged, and imaginary—that a number of creationists have notoriously adduced as evidence for the coexistence of humans and dinosaurs.
After a 1908 flood near Glen Rose, Texas, a number of large (15-18″; 38-46 cm) footprints, superficially and vaguely human in appearance and locally believed to be human in origin, were discovered in a limestone shelf (now dated to the lower Cretaceous period, about 113 million years ago) in the Paluxy River. During the Depression, both dinosaurian and “human” footprints were excavated, and sometimes forged, for the tourist trade. It was such forgeries that in 1938 attracted the attention of paleontologist Roland Bird to the Paluxy River, where he discovered genuine sauropod tracks, previously undocumented in scientific literature, as well as genuine theropod tracks. Articles in National Geographic and Natural History made the site famous.
Following his visit to the site, creationist Clifford Burdick proclaimed that the “human” footprints (which Bird was unable to identify) were indeed giant human footprints, and John Whitcomb Jr. and Henry M. Morris relied on his work in the founding document of modern young-earth creationism, The Genesis Flood (1960). Although there were a number of creationists who were skeptical, organizations such as the Institute for Creation Research and the Bible-Science Association, and a widely circulated film, Footprints in Stone (1972), popularized the interpretation of the footprints as human. In Tracking Those Incredible Dinosaurs (1980), the ICR’s John Morris attempted to provide a definitive creationist treatment along the same lines. In 1982, creationist Carl Baugh began to excavate new areas of the site, claiming to find clear human footprints as well as anomalous fossils and artifacts; although his discoveries were frequently rejected even by fellow creationists as absurd, in 1984 he founded a museum in Glen Rose to display them.
In 1982, a team of scientists—John Cole, Laurie Godfrey, Ronnie Hastings, and Steven Schafersman— calling themselves the “Raiders of the Lost Tracks” visited the site to investigate. They subsequently published the first scientific critique of the creationist interpretation; the Raiders failed, however, to examine the so-called Taylor trail, featured in Footprints in Stone, which were thought to be the best tracks for the creationist interpretation. Investigations by Ronnie Hastings and Glen Kuban, who began studying the tracks independently in 1980, established that the Taylor tracks are of dinosaurian origin. The heellike depressions on the posterior of the tracks, Kuban and Hastings concluded, were formed by bipedal dinosaurs leaving metatarsal impressions. When the traces of their tridactyl digits were obscured, due to infilling, collapse, or erosion, the result superficially and vaguely resembled a giant human footprint.
The results of these scientific investigations were acknowledged, albeit slowly and grudgingly, by the ICR and the producer of Footprints in Stone. But the Bible-Science Association continued to defend the creationist interpretation of the tracks as late as 1994, and Carl Baugh’s Creation Evidence Museum is still (in 2005) in business.
- Godfrey, L. R., & Cole, J. R. (1986). Blunder in their footsteps.
- Natural History, 95(8), 4-12. Hastings, R. J. (1987). New observations on Paluxy tracks confirm their Dinosaurian origin. Journal of Geological Education, 35, 4-15.
- Kuban, G. (1986). A summary of the Taylor Site evidence. Creation/Evolution, 6(1), 10-18.