The Paluxy River Mystery
by John D. Morris, Ph.D.
Rarely has a single research project created as much interest and controversy as has the alleged discovery of human and dinosaur footprints together in the limestone beds of the Paluxy River, normally thought to be 120 million years old. As evolutionists Milne and Schafersman admit, "Such an occurrence, if verified, would seriously disrupt conventional interpretations of biological and geological history and would support the doctrines of creationism and catastrophism." 1 Consequently, anti-creationists have devoted an inordinate amount of attention to this project, often ignoring, ridiculing, and distorting the evidence as reported by creationists. 1, 2, 3 However, little significant fieldwork was done at the site by the anti-creationists until 1982, when "The American Humanist Association . . . financed a team of four scientists to thoroughly investigate the claims first hand." 2 This team of four was comprised of Drs. Laurie Godfrey, John Cole, Steven Schafersman, and Ronnie Hastings, and with the exception of Hastings, has as yet done little fieldwork. On the other hand, the Paluxy project has been the site of numerous creationist field studies, since, while the creation model is not dependent on the Paluxy evidence, the claim has always provided an easily understood illustration of the creation model. The two most widely circulated and accepted sources were the 1973 film, "Footprints in Stone," 4 produced by the late Stan Taylor, of Films for Christ, Inc., and this author's 1980 book, Tracking Those Incredible Dinosaurs and the People Who Knew Them. 5
When Taylor and his film crew were drawn to the Paluxy in 1968 by a number of published and unpublished reports of human and dinosaur tracks together, he found many residents of the area who claimed to have seen many true human tracks in the bed of the river, the best of which had since been carried away by a flood, others badly eroded. Some of these long-time residents maintained that a number of tracks of both man and dinosaur had been removed from the river during the depression, and sold. These claims were given credence by the circular holes in the river bottom from which prints had been taken--in some cases with prints of approximately human appearance still leading into and away from the holes.
In an attempt to verify these claims and to find fresh evidence, the Taylor team excavated back into the riverbank in several areas. New human-like trails, as well as fresh prints in existing trails, were found, where there was no possibility of carving. Taylor never found perfect human footprints, but the prints found did have significant indications of a human foot and possessed no features incompatible with a human foot, so far as could be seen. No other animal was known which could have made these markings. It was concluded, therefore, that the weight of the evidence justified the interpretation that the tracks were most probably human, given the backdrop of "old timer" testimony.
Over the years, however, further erosion has dramatically changed the appearance of the prints. Creationist investigators have frequently clamed that only the freshly exposed evidence need be defended--not the eroded remnants of tracks. The controversy seemed forever deadlocked, since the original nature of the prints was available for study only in photos, movies, and casts. The only way creationist claims could be invalidated was for (1) features of the prints not visible beforehand to be exposed by erosion and (2) for the testimonies of the "old timers" to be discredited. As unlikely as this may seem, just such a scenario may be taking place today.
Due to an unknown cause, certain of the prints once labeled human are taking on a completely different character. The prints in the trail which I have called the "Taylor Trail," 5 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. The changes in the impressions themselves are mostly confined to lengthening in the downriver direction. The most significant change, however, is that surrounding the toe area. In almost each of the prints in the trail, three large "toes" have appeared, similar to nearby dinosaur tracks. These toes, typically, are coloration phenomena only, with no impressions, in most cases. Frequently the "mud push up" surrounding the original elongated track is crossed by this red coloration. The shape of the entire track, including both impression and coloration, is unlike any known dinosaur print.
A local resident had, in 1968, shown Taylor where he had removed a human track to sell during the 1930's. Three 9-1/2" long man-like tracks were found leading up to the hole, two of which showed the general outline of a human foot. Following this general direction, Taylor removed overlying strata for 200 feet downriver, and found what was later called the Taylor Trail. He made no claims that these prints contained unquestionable toes or other diagnostic features, but the bipedal stride and the general shape of the tracks were certainly compatible with what a human would make while walking in mud. In fact, the prints did possess features which were problematic, prompting creationist Berney Neufeld later to label them as shallow, eroded dinosaur tracks.6 The trail might not have been called human if not for the hole from which a "perfect" print had reportedly been taken some 50 feet away. (From a recent study of Taylor's field notes, it is fairly certain that the prints near the hole were not a part of the Taylor Trail, as previously thought.)
But what of the other trails at the same site, which have also been labeled "human?" The Turnage Trail, consisting of a trail of eight, with print numbers 2 and 5 missing, has also developed puzzling features in prints 3 and 4. Here a bluish coloration and minor impressions indicate a smaller but distinctly pointed tridactyl shape. The rest of the trail has not recently been exposed, and it is not known if those prints also show such features. In fact, prints 3 and 4 were always much different from the rest of the trail, and somewhat out of line, as well. In light of the new appearance, and the fact that new impressions have appeared in this part of the river in recent years, it would be worthwhile to reexamine the rest of the trail.
The "Giant Trail," consisting of six large prints, seemed like better evidence. The bank has collapsed over three of the six, but the three now visible show no dinosaurian features, even though the surface has been somewhat eroded. However, a trail of coloration features leading up to the Giant Trail do raise a question. Separating the first giant track (print number +1), and the closest possible coloration marking (now called print 0), is a distance of 90", and if both belong to the same trail, two prints are completely missing. That first coloration (print 0) is poorly formed, and not diagnostic. The toe area of the next in line (print 00) was stepped on by a clear dinosaur print, as was the next marking (print -1). Finally, the next farthest print (print -2) shows, in coloration only, claw features similar to the Taylor Trail. The association with the Giant Trail is tenuous, but the possibility that the entire trail might be dinosaurian cannot be ignored.
The Ryals Trail included a hole in the river from which "one of the best human footprints" (according to Jim Ryals and many others) was removed by Ryals over 50 years ago. The prints entering and leaving the cutout seemed (in 1968), at least compatible with a human foot. As with the other trails, these are now developing tridactyl colorations. If this trail is, in actuality, a dinosaur trail, the testimonies of the "old timers" must be questioned. Studies by a team of ICR scientists of cores taken through each of the claws of one print, in an effort to determine whether or not the coloration features are only surface stains, were inconclusive. The mottled rock material beneath the toes showed some evidence of infilling with a different material, but in other areas, showed only a thin veneer of slightly different material.
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.
Trails and prints elsewhere along the Paluxy, while contributive to the original interpretation, may be insufficient to stand alone. Erosion has further deteriorated the once-interesting prints on the park ledge, but they are still recognizable. At the Dougherty site, no hints of the important Cherry Trail and Morris prints remain. The various controversial prints labeled 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. Earlier prints which had been removed from the river before being documented, even if genuine, cannot be considered as compelling evidence, in view of their uncertain source.
The stain surrounding the prints has evidently increased over the past few years. It was first noted in 1982 by Mr. Glen Kuban, who since 1980 has been researching the area.7 At the invitation of Kuban, Paul Taylor, Marian Taylor, and Marvin Herrmann (all associated with the production of Footprints in Stone), Tom Henderson, early footprint investigator, and this author, returned to Paluxy in October 1985, to see the new evidence. Some of us have returned since to do additional fieldwork. With the exception of Kuban, who claims neutrality on the creation-evolution question, all share the conclusion that the recent reddish stain, so devastating to the original interpretation, is itself quite baffling as to source and meaning. The following additional mysterious points seem significant:
- Fifteen years of erosion (contrary to the usual effects of erosion) seems to have "improved" the quality of the trackways. It is possible that a thin overlying layer is eroding, revealing an underlying print, but then why didn't the adjacent, deep dinosaur trail receive this infilling material, since it was evidently made first?
- Since the marl which filled in the deep dinosaur tracks was unconsolidated and easily removed by investigators, why did the Taylor tracks retain much of the material while providing a solid print bottom and flush toes?
- If the reddish stain is due to minerals in the river water, why did the Ryals Trail, which has been exposed at least 60 years, begin to stain at the same time as the more recently exposed prints?
- Applying a reddish stain to a rock surface can easily be accomplished by the application of certain readily available chemical agents.
- Is the Giant Trail extension valid? Likewise, are the tridactyl prints in the Turnage Trail really part of that trail? How could the "old timers" all be so wrong about the track removed from the Ryals Trail?
- Why do the cores not show unequivocal evidence of toe infilling if the red surface stain is indeed a chemical alteration of an infilling material?
Even though it would now be improper for creationists to continue to use the Paluxy data as evidence against evolution, in the light of these questions, there is still much that is not known about the tracks and continued research is in order. We stand committed to truth, and will gladly modify or abandon our previous interpretation of the Paluxy data as the facts dictate.
1 Milne, David H., and Steven O. Schafersman, 1983, "Dinosaur Tracts, Erosion Marks and Midnight Chisel Work (But No Human Footprints) in the Cretaceous Limestone of the Paluxy River Bed, Texas," Journal of Geological Education, Vol. 31, pp. 111-123.
2 Edwords, Frederick, 1983. "Creation/Evolution Update: Footprints in the Mind," The Humanist, Vol. 43, No. 2, P. 31, March/April.
3 "The Paluxy River Footprint Mystery-Solved," 1985, Creation/Evolution Special Issue, Vol. 5, No. 1. Entire issue devoted to Paluxy footprints, articles authored by Godfrey, Cole, Hastings, and Schafersman.
4 Taylor, Stanley E., "Footprints in Stone," 1983 (Film) produced by Films for Christ, Inc.
5 Morris, John D., Tracking Those Incredible Dinosaurs (and the People Who Knew Them), 1980, San Diego, Creation-Life Publishers, 240 pp.
6 Neufeld, Berney, "Dinosaur Tracts and Giant Men" Origins, Vol. 2, No. 2, 1975, pp. 64-76.
7 Kuban, Glen, 1985, The Texas Mantrack Controversy. Self-published. Kuban has done extensive field research and documentation at the Taylor Site and elsewhere. His evaluation, complete with photographs and maps can be purchased from him at Box 663, Brunswick, Ohio, 44212.
* Dr. John Morris is the President of the Institute for Creation Research.
Cite this article: Morris J. D. 1986. The Paluxy River Mystery. Acts & Fact. 15 (1).