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Creation 46(2):56, April 2024

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Bird tracks before birds existed?


CC-BY 4.0 | © 2023 Abrahams, Bordy | PLoS ONE 18(11)false-colour
Figure 1. False colour (by depth) image of one of the bird-like footprints (Fig. S2 from Ref. 1).

Trackways preserved in stone in South Africa look very much like those from modern birds. However, deep time ‘dating’ puts them at 215 million years ago, over 60 million years older than the oldest bird fossil (Archaeopteryx, 150 Ma).1

The evolutionary story that birds evolved from dinosaurs already had problems—for example, Archaeopteryx, a clearly flying bird, predates any of its supposed ancestors. How could a grandson be older than his grandfather?

The researchers identified six characteristics of the prints that were consistent with birds making them. However, bird tracks that put birds back another 65 million years would compound the problem for the evolutionary story.

Thus, the authors try to downplay the similarity to modern birds: “[the foot type] is not distinctly avian, as it lacks a well-developed digit III metatarsophalangeal pad and preserves no direct evidence of associated hallux [hind toe] impressions.”

CC-BY 4.0 | © 2023 Abrahams, Bordy | PLoS ONE 18(11)bird-like-footprints

However, there are modern birds with a three-toe foot design (i.e. no hallux), such as cassowaries, emus, rheas, and bustards.

Also, at least the lesser rhea tends to leave prints without evidence of a “metatarsophalangeal pad”.2 Although turkeys have a small hallux, they can leave prints in mud with little evidence for it.3 Furthermore, some of these birds have rather thick digits, which resemble the “morphotype I” prints that the authors don’t associate with birds.

The authors speculate that “it is likely that Morphotype II tracks were made by a yet-to-be-found tridactyl archosaur.” In other words, bird-like feet evolved on a dinosaur-type of creature a long time before birds evolved!

These prints would have formed about 4,500 years ago, during the inundatory phase of Noah’s Flood, when the waters were rising, during the first 150 days (see creation.com/GTT). The birds made the footprints on sediments already laid down, as they were briefly exposed with the ebb and flow of tides and tsunamis (see creation.com/BEDS).

This model predicts that we will find footprints lower than any animal that could have made them, thus ‘dated’ in the evolutionary system as millions of years older. The fossil record follows this prediction for many types of creatures; these bird tracks are just the latest example.

Posted on homepage: 26 February 2024

References and notes

  1. Abrahams, M. and Bordy, E.M., The oldest fossil bird-like footprints from the upper Triassic of southern Africa, PLoS ONE 18(11): e0293021, 2023. Return to text.
  2. Search ‘lesser rhea footprint’ on naturepl.com to see a photo of same. Return to text.
  3. Gonzalez, M., Turkey tracks: Identification guide for snow, mud, and more, a-z-animals.com, updated 4 May 2023. Return to text.

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