Dinosaur Footprints, Eggs and Bones – Are Paleontologists Creating Fake History?

Dinosaur tracks and eggshells are found in great abundance in the geological column.   Many paleontologists have devoted their careers to finding, characterizing and interpreting these remains of these extinct organisms.  But is all their work to put these fossils into a historical context simply a fantasy?  If the young-earth view of earth’s history is correct, the vast majority of paleontological work amounts to nothing more than the creation of fake history.  What do I mean?  Let’s look at a paper published today as an example.

This paper (1) reported the discovery and examination of 31 dinosaur fossil and tracksites within one rock formation in Spain.  Like hundreds of other similar studies, I was struck by the remarkable volume of data that has been collected and the inferences that these fossils allow scientists to make about the conditions that existed in the past.   The authors were interested in using all the fossils and other trace fossils they have found to recreate the conditions that existed in a particular place and time through.  That history includes multiple types of dinosaurs living in a river flood plain with small lakes and streams and patchy areas of higher ground.

Fig 4 from Gasca et al. 2017. Their fig legend: Synthesis of the vertebrate fossil record of the Mirambel Formation in the Ladruñán anticline, showing the vertical distribution of tracksites, bone-bearing sites, eggshell occurrences and palaeoenvironments.

Here are a few of the highlights that we can pull from this research:

  • Seven separate sets of dinosaur tracks were discovered, four of which are found at distinct stratigraphic horizons. This means that one set of tracks is found on top of a layer of rock which sits above other layers of rock with additional tracks.  The most reasonable for this observation is that both sets of tracks could not have been formed at the same time and thus represents two separate events separated by a period of time in which the sediments between them formed.   The authors note that the tracks were formed in sediments that must have experienced significant dewatering which is a fancy way of saying that these are muds and clays that were had dried out enough to still be soft but to hold the shape of tracks made in them until filled with new sediment.
  • Twenty-two skeletal fossil sites were identified in 12 different bone-bearing stratigraphic levels.  The condition of the bones and locations where they were deposited were not random.  Individual bones and pieces of bones were more likely to be found in course-gained deposits indicative of river/stream-bed deposition.  Other skeletal remains were more likely to be found in poorly drained flood plain deposits.  The point is that fossils are not randomly associated with different rock compositions.
  • Eighteen distinct stratigraphic horizons in this rock formation hosted eggshell fossils from multiple species of dinosaurs. Eggshell remains were also not random but were found in particular types of sedimentary rock interpreted as lake-shore sites.  The local density suggests nesting sites of groups of dinosaurs which came back to the same region years later after more flood-plain sediments were deposited on top of their old nesting sites.  These shells were locally very abundant. The paper mentions that they were found as dense as 50 eggshell fragments per 2 kg of sediment!
  • All of these bones, footprints and eggshells are found in about a 100 meter thick rock formation.  Apparently there are very few if any dinosaur remains in the rock layers above and below this particular formation. This adjacent rocks layers have a different composition indicating they were formed under different conditions which were apparently not as conducive to dinosaur life.

What have these scientists done? They have collected a lot of evidence.  The existence of footprints, bones, and eggshell pieces along with their exact locations and composition of the rock they were embedded in are the facts in this study.  We could call these facts the circumstantial evidence.

From that evidence we may- with great confidence I believe – infer many things.  We may infer – or conclude – that footprints were made by a foot that existed at the same time the footprint were made.  We can infer that eggshells are the remains of eggs that were laid by an animal that also lived sometime in the past.   From the amount of abrasion on the eggshells we can infer if the shells had been transported in water/sediment long distances or if they were covered essentially in the same place they were laid. We can infer the eggs were not all laid at the same time due to their being found in successive layers of rock.  Based on the grain size of the rock they are found in, we can infer that footprints were made in dewatered soils.  More broadly we can infer from all the data than the whole region was a low-lying floodplain with a variety of local habitats.

Are all these inferences pure fantasy?

The picture being painted by all this data is of a community of dinosaurs living in a floodplain region – think of a large valley such that between two mountain chains – laying eggs, walking around temporary ponds that were at times filling and other times drying out. Eggs were hatching or being stepped on or predated up resulting in pieces being mixed into the sediments.   Periodically there were floods that covered all or part of the region with a fresh layer of courses sediment and then clays in low lying areas that temporarily collected water.

Figure from Gasca et al. 2017 showing a reconstruction of the habitat that formed this particular rock layer.

As reasonable as these conclusions may seem, examined through the “worldview glasses” or with the presupposition of a global flood, the young-earth creationist paradigm demands that the interpretation of the facts presented above must be almost 100% wrong.  They would accuse the authors of this paper as having created a fantasy history and any popular news taken from this research would be treated as fake news. Yes, they will probably agree there really are bones, footprints and eggshells in these rocks but nearly every inference made from those “facts” must be labeled as false. Why? Because these facts have been interpreted, their minds, with the wrong interpretive filter.

Yes, this is a bit overstated.  If pushed I am sure that the YEC advocate will agree that some inferences about historical events are appropriate.  For example, I doubt any YECs would deny that the footprints were formed by a foot even though they did not witness the foot make the footprint.  They accept this inference of historical science without question even though they cannot prove that this is what happened.

But the can’t accept most of the interpretations of these authors. Why? Because they are absolutely convinced that the sediments in these rocks formations were formed during a single global flood.  They believe that all of these layers of rock in which these footprints, bones and eggshell fragments were found were formed in minutes, days or possibly a few weeks. Clearly, the interpretation painted above by the authors of this papers involve process which would require years, decades and probably thousands and thousands of years to account for the observed fossils.

The YEC is forced by their presuppositions (their worldview in their words) to find an alternative explanation for all the evidence.  Yes, they agree the fossils exists. Yes, they agree that bones belonged to animals, that egg-shell pieces belonged to complete eggs and that footprints belonged to the action of the foot of an animal.  Given these accepted interpretation of the observed features in these rocks, everyone concludes there must be a real history which can account for the existence of this particular set of observations.  As I said above, hundreds of scientists have devoted entire careers to finding, documenting and interpreting fossils such as these and they are in nearly 100% agreement with respect to a general interpretive framework that explains the observations made here but also in many other places in the world.

What does the YEC do? They should consider the possibility that their interpretation of Genesis may be in error, since it leads to absurd interpretations of observable evidence. But instead of asking the difficult question: is there a problem with my interpretive assumptions? they devise speculative explanations like epicycles on the geocentric model of the solar system.  I’ve read all the literature I am aware of that YECs have written about dinosaur nests and footprints.   I’ve yet to find anything in that writing that sounds even remotely like a plausible alternative history of these fossils.

Any theory must explain how all these fossils came to be in the position, density, and specific rock types they are found today.  Why would bones, footprints and eggshells be constricted to just one thick layer of rock and not be in the rock above or below if all these rocks were deposited in a huge flood all at the same time? Why and how would a global flood sort out all these remains together?  It just doesn’t make sense at all.  In the end the YECs have been forced to construct a wild scenario that includes many dinosaurs surviving the beginning of the Flood while 10,000 feet of sediment are laid down in Spain.  After all this massive sediment deposition their theory would suggest that land appeared temporarily in the late stages of the Flood. The dinosaurs, which have been swimming for weeks or floating on logs, then hurried onto this patch of land and quickly lay thousands of eggs and made some footprints.  But then the land got covered again and more sediment was deposited in this region.   Somehow the same species of dinosaurs survived this second inundation and some still-pregnant ones landed back in the same area, laid more eggs and made more footprints. Now imagine this had to happen dozens of times.

So many problems with this scenario not least of which is the fact that the eggs had to be around long enough to hatch before being buried.  But this – or something like  it – must be the real history for the young-earth advocate.  I’ve written about the problems with their hypothesis in detail in the past:

Juvenile Dinosaurs Found Huddling In A Nest:  Testimony to a Global or Local Catastrophe?
Fossil Eggs, Nests, Floods and Stressed Pregnant Dinosaurs
Piles of Fossil Poo: Providing a Peak into the Past
A Tale of Taphonomy: Clam Shrimp Fossils and the Age of the Earth
NH Notes: Dino Doo-Doo (Coprolites) and the Genesis Flood
Exceptional Dinosaur Tracksite in Denali National Park Reveals Herd of Hadrosaurs

Yesterday Ken Ham once again was telling his audience that: “The difference between creation and evolution isn’t the data—it’s a difference in the interpretation of the same data. One model starts with man’s fallible word and ideas about the past. The other starts with God’s infallible eyewitness account. On which foundation will you start your thinking?”

It sounds so simple. Just start with the right foundation and you can interpret all the data and get the history right.  Of course there is no infallible Word about what makes a rock look like a footprint and yet Ken Ham seem utterly convinced of his own infallible ability to infer the past from the present.  However, in this case I think he is right and we can agree: we don’t need the Bible to provide eyewitness testimony about the past for us to be confident that the footprints really are footprints.  There was a leg with a foot on it that made them sometime in the past.  It’s when those inferences run afoul with what Ken Ham has interpreted as an infallible truth than the principle of applying presuppositions before interpreting facts kicks in.

The kicker though is that because these footprints and eggshells are part of a real history they must have a real story to tell.  Paleontologists for 200 years have been looking at these fossils and been working to discern the story they tell.  Could their conclusions be utterly wrong? Possibly. But if they are wrong, the true story needs to account for all the evidence and no one has proposed an alternative model of the history of the Earth that makes sense of all the data as well as the current old earth paradigm does.   The interpretation of the paper I reported on above makes a lot of sense. It is intuitive, makes sense of the facts that we have on hand, and fits the evidence found at many other locations around the globe.  Ken Ham cannot simply make light of these interpretations as if his model makes more sense of the data and act as if these paleontologists are part of a grand conspiracy. If all these data could be explained as easily within a different interpretive paradigm then he and his team need to provide a more reasonable explanation for these same data that they agree exist.

  1. José M. Gasca, Miguel Moreno-Azanza, Beatriz Bádenas, Ignacio Díaz-Martínez, Diego Castanera, José I. Canudo, Marcos Aurell, Integrated overview of the vertebrate fossil record of the Ladruñán anticline (Spain): Evidence of a Barremian alluvial-lacustrine system in NE Iberia frequented by dinosaurs, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, Volume 472, 15 April 2017, Pages 192-202, ISSN 0031-0182, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2017.01.050. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0031018216305776

Below is another figure showing a geological column from Utah which indicates all the different stratigraphic levels at which dinosaur footprints have been found. I show this to demonstrate that what was reported today is not an isolated or rate example but rather footprints on multiple levels is a global phenomena.

A section of the geological column from southwestern Utah showing that dinosaur tracks and found in may layers of rock presumably laid down in the middle of Noah’s flood. Figure 2 from the paper: Stratigraphic section of the Moenave Formation at the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm. Resting trace and trackway SGDS.18.T1 is in the “Top Surface” of the Main Track-Bearing Sandstone Bed (indicated by the blue arrow) in the Whitmore Point Member of the Moenave Formation. From: http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2009/03/10/a-most-amazing-set-of-spoor/

Comments

  1. My question is, why aren’t creationists eagerly pouring over data like this to fill in all the gaps regarding how precisely Noah’s Flood took place? Facts seem like such an annoyance to them, and every new scientific discovery is something that has to be pooh-poohed. It must be exhausting and depressing to have pretensions of being a scientist yet working to refute science all day.

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    • I don’t know. Maybe since the creationists believe that the only true science is from what you directly observe as it is happening, the rest is something they can dismiss.

      They do say that anything about how ancient stars formed (which they say aren’t ancient) to layers of fossils – all of that is guesswork and we cannot really know because we weren’t there to observe it. All we have is the timeline they constructed from the Bible.

      I guess if some fact can be taken out of place and fit into this timeline, or discarded if it can’t be made to fit, it is all the same. It is not dishonest or negligent to them because anything true is something they can fit into their timeline and anything that can’t be forced to fit is by definition false. But their reward is something seemingly powerful – whatever thing they are able to construct becomes “God’s view.” Anyway, that is how I imagine they have to go about things.

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      • I think that sums it up quite well. The irony – which I hinted at in this article – is that that every day they infer things about the past and act as if they are facts without realizing they are doing history science. Those footprints of dinosaurs they seem to accept as being made by dinosaurs even though they were not there to see the footprint made. What are we really seeing when we look at a footprint in stone. We are are only observing stone and the shape of the surface of that stone. We don’t observe a foot, we don’t observe the shape being produced. All of these things we infer from present-day actions and extrapolated into the past. YEC constantly berate us for using the present to interpret the past bu they do it thousands of times each and every day without batting an eye-lash. These footprints seem impossible to explain in a global flood scenario but they are willing to make up many ad-hoc wild scenarios in order to preserve their belief: that the footprints really are the remains of a dinosaur stepping in mud. It would seem to be easier to just deny they are footprints and claim they were produced by some as-yet non understood abiotic mechanism during the Flood.

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    • Yes, I have always thought it must be hard for many of them – but not all like Todd Wood – to open up the latest issue of a Nature or Geology and see one challenging set of data after another that confronting your paradigm. Watching the AIG FB live program you can see the coping mechanism. They laugh them off with broad sweeping statements about the authors self-deception and lack of correct worldview glasses.

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      • In your article, I didn’t see any mention of the tides. During the flood, the moon would have still been creating high and low tides. Wouldn’t that account for all the layers of strata, footprints, and eggs, etc?

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        • You’re joining in with the joke, right? It would be funny if some creationist thought that was a serious question.

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        • one might expect more even layers if tides really played a significant role in a global flood. The point about the footprints is that that for them to be preserved they need to be made in mud that is partially dried and then probably dry before being covered again. Tides come twice a day and so there would be no time. Furthermore some dinosaur eggs are found in nests. And some eggs many are found hatched and so they eggs had to be laid and left there many weeks at least before being covered. Tides during a global flood would end up being yet another things that the evidence doesn’t support.

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  2. I think a big issue as some see it is protecting the authority of the Bible. Some take sola scriptura to its greatest extreme – the believer left alone with his or her own reading of the Bible, and since there is no church tradition one can trust to guide one, the safest thing is to read everything as literally as possible. Churches that are more accepting of the fact that early Christian thinkers disagreed on secondary issues are not as bothered by this and tend not to need strict literalism.

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    • Churches that are more accepting of the fact that early Christian thinkers disagreed on secondary issues are not as bothered by this and tend not to need strict literalism.

      Interesting observation. In some sense, creationism benefits from ignorance about church history in general. If people knew how diverse the views were that early patristic writers held, not to mention Jewish thinkers like Philo of Alexandria, they might be less insistent on a whole range of issues — not just Genesis.

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  3. “Interpretation” is no issue at Genesis 2:6, where the KJV properly has a “mist” that is “going up” from the earth. If Moses wanted “streams” or “springs” (the Morris geology supposedly demolished by his catastrophism) instead of “mist,” the Hebrew has those specific common words in Moses’ writing. But focus on “go up,” ALAH in 2:6. If they want water to “come out” of the ground, that’s YATSA. going by their pseudoscience, they’re driven to s-u-b-s-t-i-t-u-t-e YATSA. Not good. GLL

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