Dinosaur and mammal tracks found together

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Published: 27 February 2018 (GMT+10)

In 2012, Ray Stanford, an amateur dinosaur track enthusiast, noticed a small outcrop of sandstone on a hill next to the parking lot of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. It was same color as sandstone in which he had previously discovered a small dinosaur track. The exposed piece showed the distinct footprint of a nodosaur, a type of ankylosaur. They dug out the outcrop, which turned out to be part of a 2 m2 slab with the highest concentration of tracks anywhere in the world!1,2

Stanford had earlier found a number of other dinosaur tracks with isolated body fossils in the area, including a nodosaur hatchling and a nodosaur trackway, an iguanodon track, and the front and back footprints of a hypsilophodon dinosaur. An iguanodon is a type of large duck billed dinosaur, and a hypsilophodon is a small ornithischian ornithopod dinosaur.

From Stanford et al.1NASA-trackway-slab
Figure 1. Photo (A) and map (B) of a model of the whole track-bearing surface of the slab.

What sort of tracks were found?

The chunk of rock was from the Patuxent Formation. It is dominated mostly by sand and sandstone with interbeds of iron-cemented sandstone (which produced the red color noticed by Stanford). The formation is ‘dated’ 100 million years old (early Cretaceous) and is the bottom formation of the coastal and offshore sediment wedge that thickens considerably seaward. Body fossils are rare in the Patuxent Formation, which follows the typical pattern that formations with tracks do not have body fossils and vice versa.

With the help of famous track expert Martin Lockley, they discovered that the small slab had 70 non-overlapping tracks from eight species. It not only contained dinosaur tracks, but also mammal tracks and pterosaur traces. The nodossaur track first noticed by Stanford was the only such track, but it was accompanied by baby nodosaur tracks. The slab also had one large sauropod print, a nodosaur scale, and a coprolite. There were possible invertebrate traces, possible crocodile tracks, and unidentified tracks (figure 1).

The slab is dominated by small tracks, one type being a hypsilophodon and a series of four trackways made by crow-sized theropods. Three types of mammal tracks occur with one of the mammals making tracks in a sitting position, and one large print that surprised the paleontologists, since they have come to believe Mesozoic mammals were rat-like and unspecialized. However, more and more evidence is accumulating for sophisticated Mesozoic mammals.3 Mammal tracks are rare in the Mesozoic but a few are being found, including a recent find in Angola. There are multiple other ‘mammal’ tracks in the early Mesozoic, but paleontologists have attributed these to ‘mammal-like reptiles’ called synapsids because of their evolutionary assumptions. It is possible that they are true mammal tracks, explained away because of evolutionary bias.

How could so many tracks be formed?

The researchers thought the tracks were probably made in days to a few hours and represent special preservational conditions. To preserve these tracks and traces, the layer had to have been covered up in hours to days by a flood. It is fascinating that mammals and dinosaurs that would eat mammals are found so close together.

From a uniformitarian point of view, it seems unlikely that so many tracks from so many different animals could make footprints on such a tiny slab. The trackways are straight or gently curved, typical of dinosaur tracks, which in itself is unusual. The observation of the tracks fits the BEDS (Briefly Exposed Diluvial Sediments) model.4 The track surface would represent a brief exposure of freshly-laid Flood sediments due to a local fall in the surface of the Flood water that was quickly covered by rising Flood water. It is impossible to know how so many animals swarmed across this small exposure, or whether there are other such exposures in the formation. The piece they did find was an apparently isolated piece of land, as evidenced by the lack of rock surfaces with tracks in the area surrounding the site. Volunteers dug all over the hill for more tracks and did not find anything interesting.5

Conclusion

This slab of dinosaur, crocodile, pterosaur, and mammal footprints provides dramatic evidence that supports the biblical account of creation and the Flood. The fact that dinosaur and mammal prints are found on the same slab goes against the evolutionary idea that mammals largely diversified after the dinosaurs. Rather it shows that mammals and dinosaurs lived at the same time. This is expected from a creation perspective because all animals were created during Creation Week and had diversified across the earth before the global Genesis Flood began. The rapid formation and preservation of the prints in days or hours is consistent with the rapid processes that occurred during the Flood. Further, the existence of footprints means that the animals were alive, suggesting that the tracks were made as the floodwaters were rising and before they covered all the earth. After that, all land-dwelling, air-breathing creatures had perished. The prints likely represent the efforts of the animals to escape the ongoing inundation of the rising waters.

References and notes

  1. Stanford, R., Lockley, M.G, Tucker, C., Godfrey, S., and Stanford, S.M., A diverse mammal-dominated, footprint assemblage from wetland deposits in the Lower Cretaceous of Maryland, Scientific Reports 8 (741), 2018. Return to text.
  2. Daley, J., Dinosaur and Ancient Mammal Stomping Ground Found in NASA Parking Lot, February 2, 2018; https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/dinos-and-early-mammals-romped-nasas-doorstep-180968023/#iVyWoEdW7XVD8BjB.99. Return to text.
  3. Oard, M.J., Jurassic mammals–more surprisingly diverse, J. Creation 21(2):10–11, 2007. Return to text.
  4. Oard, M.J., 2011.Dinosaur Challenges and Mysteries: How the Genesis Flood Makes Sense of Dinosaur Evidence—Including Tracks, Nests, Eggs, and Scavenged Bonebeds. Creation book Publishers, Powder Springs, GA. Return to text.
  5. Chang, K., Where NASA Put a Parking Lot, Dinosaurs and Mammals Once Crossed Paths, www.nytimes.com/2018/01/31/science/dinosaurs-footprints-nasa.html. Return to text.

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Reader’s comments

James K.
Steven T,

You are behind on the latest paleontological craze. Hypsilophodon is not an ornithiscian anymore, nowadays (according to evolutionary hypotheses) they are cobbled together with theropods forming an order of dinosauria known as the ornithoscelidans. Furthermore footprints need rapid lithification in order to be preserved. That along with coprolite fossils, show that these footprints must have formed quickly, frustrating uniformitarian expectations.
Dan C.
Great article, Michael; just wanted to pass on to anyone in the Eastern Seaboard of the US, that the land between Wash. DC and Baltimore, where NASA Goddard sits squarely, used to be called "Dinosaur Alley". This was pointed to in Dinosaurs of the East Coast, by David B. Weishampel and Luther Young. Here is the quote: “In the corridor between Washington DC and Baltimore, so many Early Cretaceous dinosaur fossils were found in the course of surface mining for iron ore in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that the area was nicknamed “Dinosaur Alley”” (p.3)

Since I have been to Goddard Space Flight Center many times this was a thrill to know about.

~ Dan in Northern Virginia

Truman N.
The problem with the conclusion is that there is no "evolutionary idea" that mammals evolved after dinosaurs. The observation is mammals appear in the fossil record BEFORE the dinosaurs, and that mammals and dinosaurs did exist together. So with the evidence of the fossil record, interpreted according to evolution, means that we should never find human tracks and dinosaur tracks together.
Shaun Doyle
Thanks. We have modified the wording of the conclusion to address this.
michael S.
One constant complaint I get on the forums, is that no modern mammals/prints are found. I was hoping this article would name a modern mammal as the track-maker, that would be a cherry on the cake. But if "modern" mammals just didn't live in the dino-zone, pre-flood then we may never find a modern mammal or track with dinos, which is a shame because what we really need is a mammal that pre-dates it's clade. Evolutionists aren't totally wrong, finding a human before the primate clade would be ideal, or a type of mammal before it's clade. I am hoping future finds might lead to this, my opinion is we are simply getting bad luck because the types of mammals living in the dino-zone just weren't the type we have dominantly with us today, which evolutionists would call, "modern" mammals, of course, from their perspective. So this is the problem, their counter-claim that the push-backs aren't pushed back enough, isn't totally without merit it seems, yet I am sure there must be at least some pushed way out of place, but finding them is more difficult.
Craig E.
Of course, you are assuming that they were mortal enemies before the flood. Maybe not.
Matt D.
Mammals first appear in Early Triassic strata and diversified throughout the Mesozoic, as did dinosaurs.
Shaun Doyle
Nonetheless, the greatest radiation of form occurred after the KT boundary. At any rate, we have modified our wording to address this issue.
WR B.
Irregular perimeter and texture of isolated "slab" suggest a lens of silica gel suspended in the less or non-cemented iron-rich matrix with direction of water flow parallel to long axis. Chemical composition is not likely to have developed in place but would require aerial or saltation emplacement with water flow shaping, and only chance of finding additional prints would require locating other lenses, as iron-rich matrix does not preserve imprints or organics. Occurrence of isolated silica gel suggest elevated temperature and charring of organic mater and prints reflect "walking on hot coals" attitude, not a peaceful stroll.
Ron M.
This is one of many discoveries that add to the evidence for the biblical flood. I also googled and read the latest NASA article about this find entitled "Dinosaur age meets the space age at NASA-Goddard". [link deleted per feedback rules]
It confirms and gives more details.
I think the years ahead will reveal many more such finds. Michael Orad, the author, pointed out the big problem that often arises - evolutionary bias in interpreting the evidence. Thank you for this interesting article. For three years I lived near Goddard and even taught a seminar on the base.
Philip S.
As always, thanks, a very interesting article - and as always, it raise a very big question, even from a YEC like little me! Just how can any creature that the Flood was supposed to bury, still be alive on Catastrophically dumped surfaces THAT DID NOT EVEN EXIST WHEN THE FLOOD BEGAN!? All 'later' strata are surely formed from massively chewed-up earlier rocks and/or Springs of the Gt Deep./ elements-chemicals etc... The only possible answer my tiny brain can come up with is, could small areas of strata possibly be uplifted and enplaced again? But they are surely firmly a part of virtually global layers of Cretac rocks laid atop huge thicknesses of other global formations of hugely varying contents, and yet the 'late' dino/bird etc tracks are very common! To suggest that thousands of critters were floating around - unharmed and still able to walk normally and casually once they beached, even lay lots of eggs etc - for months in conditions we cannot even begin to imagine of 10s of thousands of feet of roiling, boiling, eroding and dumping, volcanics etc, is almost beyond belief. All I know is God Dun It, and pretty quickly!
Tas Walker
Hi Philip, The BEDS (Briefly Exposed Diluvial Surfaces) hypothesis has been proposed to explain this. It is discussed in a number of articles on this site (found by searching) including A stampede of swimming dinosaurs.
gabriel S.
"The prints likely represent the efforts of the animals to escape the ongoing inundation of the rising waters" - not unlike the increasingly divergent and 'chaotic' prints of present day evolutionists trying to escape/explain the flood of evidence for the truth :-)
Steven T.
First, and least, Hypsilophodon is an ornithopod ornithischian, like the Iguanodon (and neither is mentioned as leaving footprints at the site in any other source I've checked).

Second, why is it remarkable that theropods that eat mammals should live in the vicinity of mammals? I'd think that eating mammals wouldn't work very well if no mammals were found in the area.

Third, evolutionists have long held that mammals and dinosaurs alike emerged during the Triassic Period and lived together throughout the Cretaceous. Modern mammalian orders are younger (though DNA comparisons and some studies of fossil teeth indicate that modern mammal orders originated in the mid-Cretaceous).

Cretaceous mammals larger than rats and mice have been known since at least the discovery of the raccoon-sized Repenomimus in 2000 (again, fossils of smaller mammals have been known for decades).

Nothing here is shocking to evolutionists or inexplicable on uniformitarian views.
Shaun Doyle
Thank you for your comments. We have altered some of the text to fix some of the errors (i.e. it now says mammals largely diversified after the extinction of dinosaurs, and it no longer identifies Hypsilophodon as an theropod). Nonetheless, the concentration of such a variety of tracks and the special burial conditions were unexpected for the uniformitarian mainstream, but they fit well into a biblical framework. Could it be accommodated to a uniformitarian framework? Most likely, since almost anything could be. But that doesn't mean it fits well.
James K.
Word of caution,

Mammals under evolutionary expectations had evolved by the Triassic. While I agree that fossil footprints support the flood, we should be cautious of our terminology. Therefore the line ‘evolved after dinosaurs’ should be changed to ‘diversified’ or flourished after dinosaurs’.
Shaun Doyle
Thanks. We have changed the wording along these lines.
Steve H.
“It is fascinating that mammals, and theropods that would eat mammals, are found so close together.”

“The prints likely represent the efforts of the animals to escape the ongoing inundation of the rising waters.”

This paints a picture of mammals and predator theropods both occupying the last patch of land prior to inundation by the flood. Even flying creatures could see no other land. Nowhere else to go! Strange bed-fellows indeed!

That may explain why there is nothing like it in the vicinity: mortal enemies would come together only as a final act of desperation.

Surely this is profound evidence of a continent submerging in a global flood!

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