Dinosaur footprints, fish traces and the Flood
In his Perspectives article, Woodmorappe1 draws attention to recent work2 reinterpreting certain alleged dinosaur tracks as impressions left by rays. However, he adds several comments of his own that appear to us to be unwarranted and open to challenge.
First, Woodmorappe jumps far too quickly from the specific reported cases to general statements.
‘This admits the possibility that many “vertebrate track” surfaces in the fossil record do not require any subaerial exposure of sedimentary surfaces during the Flood.’
‘Much more study is obviously warranted before we have solid criteria for distinguishing genuine dinosaur trackways from traces formed by fish.’
‘As for the fossil record, all vertebrate tracks, which have up to now been accepted as such without question, should be re-examined for their actual origins … .’
The logic of these statements is essentially as follows:
The ‘dinosaur’ tracks at Isona may have been made by rays.
The geological record contains countless numbers of tracks attributed to dinosaurs.
Therefore all dinosaur tracks may have been made by rays.
This differs little from a form of reasoning recognised to be fallacious as long ago as Aristotle:
1. All men are animals.
2. Horses are animals.
3. Therefore all men are horses.
In reality, no palaeontologist approaches vertebrate tracks ‘without question’. There is a continual questioning and re-evaluation of evidences, as the Palaios report itself attests. It is just not true that ‘ovate depressions found in bedding planes’ are ‘automatically … assumed to be vertebrate tracks’. Paleontologists consider a wide range of morphological criteria, supplemented by broader sedimentological analysis. Field examples will always be found where there is some ambiguity, the Isona ‘tracks’ (Fig. 1) being a case in point: the prints interpreted by some as dinosaur footprints are subcircular depressions without the distinct foot morphology of a bipedal or quadrupedal animal. However, such cases should not be presented as typical of all, nor should they be used to suggest that every alleged trackway is suspect. Woodmorappe’s assertion to the contrary notwithstanding, solid criteria for distinguishing genuine dinosaur trackways from traces formed by rays already exist.
As it happens, two of us visited the Isona site two years before the Palaios article. Understandably, the Spanish tourist authorities were exploiting the idea that they had large numbers of dinosaur tracks, despite the lack of a proper description or scientific investigation of the surface. Tourists were informed that a sauropod herd had been milling around. But we were puzzled: manus and pes combinations (made by the front and hind legs of a sauropod) could not be discerned. Neither were we able to make out a single specific trackway. The prints were described as undertracks, i.e. they underlay the sediment in immediate contact with the animal, and as such they were more difficult to interpret than the majority of dinosaur tracks, where the impressed surface is revealed.
Woodmorappe says: ‘the occurrence of footprints is, at times, needlessly supposed to be a hindrance to our understanding of the Flood origins of most Phanerozoic sedimentary strata’ (see diagram of geologic record). Mechanisms can be found, he says, that ‘would have easily allowed the temporarily surviving animals to make numerous footprints, and to do so repeatedly at successive horizons within sediment’.
Such alleged mechanisms have yet to be presented. The problems which they must address have been set out in this journal in previous papers of ours. Among them:
As Woodmorappe acknowledges, land-vertebrate footprints occur in the upper two thirds of the Phanerozoic geological record. In other words, the lowest part of the Phanerozoic is barren of traces of air-breathing animals, and the remainder has them. On the other hand, the scriptural record indicates that, if footprint-makers survived the onslaught of the first day of the Flood at all, ‘they were alive towards the earlier stages of the Flood, but not the latter’. Thus any Flood model allocating the bulk of the Phanerozoic to the Flood would predict no footprints within these two-thirds.
It is impossible to point to any high ground below the Phanerozoic, to which the vertebrates might have escaped for a while. The footprints invariably occur where the alleged pre-Flood land surface is already covered, and they invariably occur in lowland settings.
The sediment pile above which tracks occur is commonly many kilometres thick. We are unable to conceive of a Flood so catastrophic as to lay down kilometres of sediment while at the same time allowing terrestrial animals ‘temporarily to survive’ that catastrophe.
If one such track seems problematic enough within such a scenario, the worldwide occurrence of thousands of documented, unambiguously terrestrial tracks is still more problematic.
This difficulty is further compounded by the frequent occurrence of dinosaur tracks at successive horizons at the same locality. In Korea, there is one locality where as many as 300 successive horizons have been counted, through a vertical thickness exceeding 110 m.3 In the course of a few hours or, at most, days the deposition of 110 m would be catastrophic. Somehow we are to imagine the beasts surviving wave after wave of deluge and returning to the same spot, notwithstanding that it was under shallow water and thus not even visible to them. It also needs to be pointed out that sediment is deposited in topographic lows, not highs, i.e. we are not to imagine a repeatedly emerging and submerging island, repeatedly covered with trackways, but precisely the reverse. In such situations the origin of the track-makers is invariably a topographic high, i.e. surrounding land, not water, and the tracks are made in a topographic low, e.g. a lake or shore.
The majority of dinosaur tracks are associated with rippled surfaces indicative of quieter, low-energy movement of water. The sheer number of such tracks known from Mesozoic rocks on all continents must place some constraint on the sedimentary processes operating.
After the first third of the Phanerozoic vertebrate tracks form a continuous record. Any Flood model which attempted to interpret the bulk of the Phanerozoic as Flood deposits would need to be able to point to a substantial period where the continents supported absolutely no animal life other than in the vicinity of the Ark. As indicated above, that hiatus ought to be immediately after wherever the beginning of the Flood is placed. Thus the fact that the vertebrate track record is essentially unbroken from the Devonian (one third up the Phanerozoic) right up to the present day is surely clear evidence that the latter two thirds of the Phanerozoic (at least) is post-Flood. Throughout that time we cannot point to any period when the land was cleared of walking, breeding and feeding animals.
Animal tracks are not an isolated phenomenon. The tracks left by living animals are often complemented by other signs of normal life such as burrows, nests, eggs, feces. Whilst local catastrophes may readily account for their preservation, their existence points to animals feeding and breeding and generally not operating under stress.
We do not feel that the extent to which the above points are problematic for current Flood models has been appreciated. Woodmorappe’s reference to ‘small changes in floodwater levels’, indistinguishable in isolation from orthodox explanations referring to small changes in lake or sea level, does not amount to the required mechanism. It is merely an ad hoc postulation of possible circumstances at one particular moment, not an explanation of phenomena in both their local and global context, taking into account the vast thicknesses of sediment beneath them. Woodmorappe also refers to Oard’s attempt to show how trackways might have been laid down during the early Flood.4 Again, this article did not seem to us at all convincing, and we responded in a letter5 to that journal. In other articles Garner,6 Garton7 and Robinson8 explored the issues in more detail. Nonetheless, Woodmorappe still repeats Oard’s elementary fallacy that the sediments in which tracks are found can be construed as topographic highs (‘significant strips of land’) surrounded by topographic lows (‘water’); as explained above, the situation is the reverse. As subsequent exchanges have only served to confirm, Oard’s approach is a lost cause.
Some readers may be interested in our excursion to the Rioja region of Spain to examine some of Europe’s best dinosaur trackways. There are well-preserved tracks of many different dinosaurs (Fig. 2) and the sedimentary horizons bear the marks of desiccation events. In his article9 Garton illustrates and discusses the field evidences and points out the implications for diluvialist thinking. In our view, the framework developed therein provides a far more reasonable understanding of the data than that underlying Woodmorappe’s Forum article.
Paul A. Garner
Richard H. Johnston
Steven J. Robinson
David J. Tyler
- Woodmorappe, J., Dinosaur footprints, fish traces and the Flood, TJ 16(2):10–12, 2002.
- Martinell, J., De Gibert, J.M., Domènech, R., Ekdale, A.A. and Steen, P.P., Cretaceous ray traces? An alternative interpretation for the alleged dinosaur tracks of La Posa, Isona, NE Spain, Palaios 16(4):409–416, 2001.
- Lim, S.K., Lockley, M.G., Yang, S-Y., Fleming, R.F. and Houck, K.A., Preliminary Report on Sauropod Tracksites from the Cretaceous of Korea, Gaia: Revista de Geociencias, Museu Nacional de Historia Natural, Lisbon, 10:109–117, 1994.
- Oard, M.J., Polar dinosaurs and the Genesis Flood, CRSQ 32(1):47–56, 1995.
- Garner, P., Robinson, S., Garton, M. and Tyler, D., Comment on Polar dinosaurs and the Genesis Flood, CRSQ 32(4):232–234, 1996.
- Garner, P., Where is the Flood/post-Flood Boundary? Implications of dinosaur nests in the Mesozoic, TJ 10(1):101–106, 1996.
- Garton, M., The pattern of fossil tracks in the geological record, TJ 10(1):82–100, 1996.
- Robinson, S.J., Dinosaurs in the Oardic flood, TJ 12(1):55–68, 1998.
- Garton, M.A., Spanish weekend, Origins (Journal of the Biblical Creation Society) 22:11–24, 1997.
Since Mr Oard’s article has come up in this discussion, his input is included in this response. To begin with, it does not look as if Garton et al. have read Woodmorappe’s paper too carefully. We are amazed at their misuse of formal logic, and overall misrepresentation of Woodmorappe’s paper. It is obvious from Woodmorappe’s article that he is in no way saying that all dinosaur tracks were actually caused by ray traces. As to his statement about checking all dinosaur traces, this refers to establishing the boundary between clearly dinosaur tracks, clearly ray traces, and markings of ambiguous origin—certainly not implying that all dinosaur tracks may actually be ray traces.
Garton et al. call attention to such features as the pes and manus in dinosaur footprints, as if Woodmorappe was unaware of them. He most certainly does discuss these (and other) anatomical features, albeit with the qualification that such otherwise-certain identifiers of dinosaur footprints are often eroded away (actually or supposedly), complicating the identification of ovate depressions. And, even when the dinosaur-footprint identification seems clear-cut, Woodmorappe is emphasizing the fact that we need to be certain that these criteria cannot be explained by alternative causes. In view of the fact that non-traditional explanations for vertebrate footprints have only been sparsely investigated, further research is clearly warranted. That was, and is, Woodmorappe’s point.
We have divergent opinions about the paleontological literature. While indeed there are instances where dinosaur tracks are questioned, this is usually not the case, in our experience. Relatively few papers on vertebrate tracks ever suggest alternative origins. If nothing else, the fact that the fish-ray explanation has appeared only in the last few years alone attests to the overall rarity of ‘out of the box’ thinking about vertebrate tracks. We are surprised to hear that there had been no proper prior scientific description of the Isona ‘tracks’. Proper according to whose opinion? Martinell et al. cite some studies that had suggested dinosaurian origins for the Isona markings.
We remain totally unconvinced that the challenges to Flood geology, as presented by Garton et al., either in the present critique or in their earlier papers, add up to insurmountable problems for Flood geology. They try to squeeze the Flood into a smaller and smaller part of the geologic record just as Baron Cuvier did two centuries ago, albeit in different ways. We refer to this as the neo-Cuvierist position, which, taken to its logical conclusion does away with the evidence for the biblical Flood completely.
They labour under the illusion that the textbook geologic column is a reality, notably when they say we would predict no tracks in the top of the Phanerozoic, where the tracks are found. When they say this they are assuming the geological column is an absolute time sequence for the Flood and that it is LINEAR. We have addressed the geological column a number of times; but the neo-Cuvierists simply buy into speeded-up uniformitarian thinking. A case can be made for the ‘Cenozoic’ being deposited: a) before the first 150 days, b) from Day 150 to Day 371, and c) post-Flood.1 With the tremendous onslaught of the Flood, it is obvious sedimentation would not be linear, but most of it would occur during the first 150 days, including the continental ‘Cenozoic’ deposits. The Recessive Stage of the Flood is mainly an erosional event of what has already been deposited on the continents. Of course there is new sedimentation along the continental shelves and a few other places. Oard has presented a perfectly viable hypothesis for forming dinosaur tracks on freshly laid Flood sediments.
Second, neo-Cuvierists fail to appreciate the complexity of the Flood. They seem to think the Flood catastrophe struck every square inch of the earth at the same time and at the same intensity, in which case there would not be anything alive after Day 1. Worse yet, neo-Cuvierists freely make totally unsubstantiated claims about the ‘impossibly catastrophic’ deposition of the sediment that underlies dinosaur footprints. Note that an ‘inability to conceive’ of something (by them) does not constitute evidence against its occurrence. The repeated emergence and submergence of vast land areas is not at all ad hoc. It is common sense. When repeated many times in the same area, and throughout the flooded world, it became a common, global process. Note that ripple marks can occur in various environments.
We reject the recurrent neo-Cuvierist notion that sediments cannot be deposited on topographic highs. In fact, we would of course expect much more sedimentation in lows, but with very muddy water, sedimentation can also occur on highs, especially broad highs. There would also be slow water areas around shoals during the Flood, so that a sea level rise would not erode the tracks, but simply cover them up. Furthermore, owing to tectonic upheavals, ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ would no doubt change places repeatedly in relatively short periods of time. None of these events are difficult to envision during a complex Flood.
The neo-Cuvierists continue to insist that tracks indicate animals breeding and feeding. Oard has repeatedly pointed out that this is not the case, as we would expect, and hence is indirect evidence for catastrophic conditions all over the world. The particular data on the tracks indicates predominantly straight trackways. There are a number of parallel trackways, which the evolutionists take as ‘gregarious’ behavior. It would be hard to make a case for breeding and feeding in such parallel trackways. As for ‘nonstressful’ activities, who says that dinosaurs were under continual stress during the Flood, and who knows under what conditions dinosaurs could occasionally build nests or perform other ‘normal’ activities in the first place?
As for the alleged 300 dinosaur footprint horizons in South Korea, we are hampered both by space limitations as well as the fact that there are only two substantive English-language publications on this subject,2 which makes a detailed examination of these claims difficult. However, it is easy to see, from the stratigraphic sections presented, that lithological character, lithological thicknesses, and stratigraphic intervals between dinosaur footprint horizons vary greatly over relatively short distances (few kilometers). This makes it difficult for us to evaluate how these horizons can supposedly be unambiguously correlated and, from this, how the 300-footprint-horizon figure originated. In particular, does the field evidence actually require 300 successive events, or is it a composite of much fewer events occurring laterally in area and simultaneously in time?
The fact that there are relatively few footprints in total suggests a small amount of time for each set of footprints. Moreover, the fact that there are usually only a few to few tens of centimeters of sediment between empirically-determined footprint horizons means that only small ebbings of Floodwaters would have been sufficient to bring in the sediment. The latter’s thinness would have enabled the dinosaurs to simply keep stepping upward as the water kept flowing while progressively more sediment accumulated around their toes (visualize, by analogy, a large snowstorm where people don’t move great lateral distances but keep stepping upon successively thicker snow, eventually leaving many ‘footprint horizons’ within the overall thick layer of snow).
As it turns out, there are a number of observations relative to the Korean site which is inconsistent with the standard interpretation but consonant with a Flood one. The sauropod tracks are all of similar size, and from a young juvenile, which is certainly strange for the supposed extended period of time during which allegedly pedogenic calcareous nodules, lenses, etc. formed. (Recall also that claims of paleosols are based on subjective criteria.) Second, there is a preferred orientation of the dinosaur tracks, with some variability, that is perpendicular to the strongly preferred orientation of wave ripples. We should find lots of tracks parallel to the supposed lake if it were a natural setting for dinosaurs along a lake. We are also asked to believe that, over so much supposed time, the subsidence of 110 m was taking place in exact balance to deposition. Somehow, the postulated repeated flash floods, occurring over long periods of time, did not cut gullies. The evidence better supports a sheet deposit laid down quickly by pulses of rising floodwater with no time for extensive channelization. More information is needed to evaluate the ‘300 footprint horizon’ claim than is readily available.
Pointedly, the neo-Cuvierist position being defended by Garton et al. encounters far more problems than any attributable to standard Flood geology. For instance, all forms of neo-Cuvierism, regardless of whether they place much of the fossiliferous sedimentary record before or after the Flood, suffer from the fatal defect of attributing impossibly large volumes of sediment to quasi-normal sedimentary processes.3 Second, the biostratigraphic differentiation of fossils is left without plausible explanation. If, as they insist, the upper of the textbook geological column was deposited after the Flood, the dinosaurs would have had to be very clever not to be fossilized with the mammals after the Flood.
Anti-creationists have exploited neo-Cuvierist thinking. Most definitely they are not concerned about the pre-Flood/Flood/post-Flood boundaries! They correctly see neo-Cuvierism for what it is: a concession to uniformitarianism which, when taken to its logical conclusion, does away with the Flood altogether. To suddenly throw out the main Flood model when putative challenges are encountered (dinosaur tracks and eggs) is a very unstable position, since there are literally hundreds of ‘problems’. This is partly caused by our limited understanding of the Flood. Moreover, one can find real or imagined problems wherever in the sedimentary record that one would try to pigeonhole even a geologically scaled-down Flood. No wonder that ex-creationists commonly used neo-Cuvierism as a way station between Flood geology and total abandonment of the Flood. We contend that neo-Cuvierist thinking is seriously wrongheaded, and recommend that it be considered dead and buried once and for all.
- Oard, M.J., Vertical tectonics and the drainage of floodwater: a model for the middle and late diluvian period, Part II, CRSQ 38(2):79–95, 2001. See pp. 89, 90.
- Lim, S-K. et al., A preliminary report on sauropod tracksites from the Cretaceous of Korea, Gaia 10:109–117, 1994; Paik, I.S. et al., Dinosaur track-bearing deposits in the Cretaceous Jindong Formation, Korea, Cretaceous Research 22:79–92, 2001.
- Holt, R.D., Evidence for a Late Cainozoic Flood/post-Flood boundary, TJ 10(1):128–167, 1996.