Dinosaur and mammal tracks found together
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.
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
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
- 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.
- 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.
- Oard, M.J., Jurassic mammals–more surprisingly diverse, J. Creation 21(2):10–11, 2007. Return to text.
- 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.
- 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.