Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Visit to the “Man-Tracks”

On August 13 I drove down to Glen Rose, Texas, to meet again with Glen Kuban, the expert on the Paluxy River dinosaur trackways. The river level is again very low, revealing 110 million year old dinosaur tracks, and Glen was hard at work on them.

Glen took me to the most famous of the trackway sites, off in a corner of Dinosaur Valley State Park that is seldom visited by tourists: the trackways that creationists have long claimed had human and dinosaur footprints right beside one another. Glen showed me the actual tracks that appear in creationist books and movies. When you get up close and look at them, you can see that they are all dinosaur prints: you can see the three big claws, and the hallux pointed inward. Here is a photo of the dinosaur track with a supposedly human print right beside it, a creationist icon. But you can see the claw marks on the supposedly human print. In the photo, you see the dinosaur track on the bottom, the “man-print” which is actually a dinosaur print (note the three claws) above it, and Glen’s foot for scale (which shows that these “man-prints” were supposedly made by giants).

I learned something very interesting about fossilized tracks that I had never realized. Sometimes mineral water fills the limestone track impressions. Over millions of years, the mineralized infilling (which is harder than the limestone) erodes less than the limestone, leaving a raised footprint, sort of a negative footprint.

I also learned that three tracks can be more than three times as valuable as one track. The reason is that a single track can be distorted; for example, a toe may appear short because it was pressed incompletely into the mud. But if the feature appears over and over in a trackway, you can trust the feature to be reliable, not just an accident of track formation and preservation. This photo shows the famous Taylor trackway, which Footprints in Stone producer Stan Taylor considered to be of humans and dinosaurs walking together.

Creationists have sometimes made desperate claims in an attempt to discredit the dinosaur origin of the “man-tracks.” They have even implied that the dinosaur marks were introduced artificially by evil evolutionists. But when you look at the tracks, as in this photo, you can see that, even when the track is flat (that is, neither impressed nor raised), there is a texture difference between the mineral infilling of the track (which is smooth) and the rough limestone around it.

Glen pointed out something very interesting. These dinosaur tracks—indeed, the very ones we were looking at that very moment—are supposed to be important enough creationist evidence that, by themselves, they could invalidate the entire time frame upon which evolutionary science is based. I recall that J.B.S. Haldane, the famous British evolutionary scientists of the early twentieth century, was asked what would convince him that evolution was wrong. He speculated that a Precambrian rabbit would do the trick. Well, right here in the bed of the Paluxy River is the near equivalent of a Precambrian rabbit: a Cretaceous human, if it can be proven. Why aren’t the creationists devoting their effort to studying these tracks? They hardly ever even visit them. We could not shake the impression that the “man-tracks” are more of a creationist stunt than a scientific creationist challenge to evolution. The “man-tracks” are something to use for publicity, not to do research on.

I always learn interesting things from Glen, and when I do, I will pass them on to you.

I have just posted a video of Glen Kuban explaining the "man-tracks," on my Darwin YouTube channel.

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