Do Dinosaur Footprint Fossils Indicate Sauropods Splashed in Water?

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Scotland is well-known for a certain marine reptile, the highly debatable and elusive presumed plesiosaur of Loch Ness, “Nessie.” But recently, more definitive evidence has been found in Scotland to suggest that large reptiles once roamed the bonny land. But did these dinosaurs keep their feet planted firmly on dry land, or did they spend time slogging through shallow water?

Dino Disco?

On Scotland’s Isle of Skye, researchers have discovered hundreds of dinosaur tracks. Based on the immense size of these tracks (the largest was 2.3 feet [70 centimeters] across), researchers determined that these tracks belonged to a species of sauropod dinosaur likely 50 feet (15 meters) long and weighing 15–20 tons. According to the researchers’ report in The Scottish Journal of Geology, the tracks have been “identified as dinosaur prints based on their consistent size [25–35 cm for the front foot print and 50–70 cm for the rear foot print], preservation of fine features, such as digits and claw marks, and their arrangement in orderly trackways.”1 The vast majority of tracks are sauropod tracks, and both front (manus) and rear (pes) footprints are commonly found. While individual trackways are orderly the tracks aren’t laid out in a uniform manner but instead show evidence of traversing over each other. While the average depth of the individual tracks is not given in the paper, it appears from scale that they are between 10–20 cm deep. Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist with the University of Edinburgh, says of these tracks, "There were clearly lots of sauropods moving all around this lagoon. They were at home there, they were thriving there. Looking at the chaotic jumble of tracks, it looks like a dance floor, like a dinosaur disco.”2 Since the 1970s it has been believed that sauropods were land-dwellers; however, because these tracks are interpreted as having been laid down in a shallow lagoon, the sauropod story is again changing to include some time spent splashing about in the water.

Scotland has never boasted many sauropod fossils, just a few teeth and bone fragments, and even fewer fossils from the middle Jurassic, the supposed geologic time when these layers containing the footprints were deposited. The tracks were found in two layers of calcarenite (limestone consisting of coarse carbonate sand grains) and one limestone layer (consisting of medium-size carbonate sand grains). Thus, according to that evolutionary dating, these footprints were made 166–168 million years ago. Because researchers found at least three layers (each layer containing numerous tracks) of sets of footprints in two separate types of sediment layers, they believe several generations of ancient sauropods made these footprints. The footprints are also close together, which is interpreted to mean that the dinos were slowly strolling along. But is this new picture of sauropod dinosaur life really a good interpretation of the evidence?

Disco Party or Stampede?

As noted above, there are very few sauropod body fossils that have been found in Scotland. One must ask if there are so many tracks on the Isle of Skye (a 639 square mile island off Scotland’s northwest coast), why are there scant few (if any) body fossils of the creatures that made them, especially on the Isle of Skye? If these huge beasts walked on this island, then where are their fossilized bodies? Of course we realize that fossilization is not an automatic process (far from it), and the possibility remains that some body fossils of these creatures might be found at a later date. Still it must be considered improbable for herds of dinosaurs over “several generations” to leave tracks but no other physical evidence. If geologic processes were operating so slowly at that time, then surely some of these sauropod trackmakers must have died and been buried somewhere nearby.

If we view this scenario from a different perspective, that of a global Flood, what would we expect to see and find?

Another interesting point is found in a second comment on these tracks by Steve Brusatte: “These footprints were made in a lagoon, which is a pretty interesting environment for dinosaurs. . . . We can tell that they were making these footprints while they were walking underwater—probably shallow water.”3 Why is such an environment “interesting”? Because such large sauropods would need lots of food to sustain their existence, lagoons hardly seem a good place for so many large herbivores to congregate. Think of a typical lagoon: lush forests outside the immediate area and then beaches with lots of sand (and typically nothing else) going toward the water. Why would they leave the forests, where all their food was, to walk past the beach and into the water? Plus, evident from the tracks, they were walking through the water, not merely going to cool off or flee predators. We would not expect a “fossil footprint dance floor” in those circumstances but rather rutted trackways or evidence of predation, especially if this went on for generations.

But if we view this scenario from a different perspective, that of a global Flood, what would we expect to see and find? Suppose a group of sauropods were fleeing rising water that maybe even swept them away from their habitat. Would it be likely for them to seek to get back to the higher ground as water began to cover the grasslands or forests where they had been grazing? We would not expect them to all run in the same direction, but wouldn’t it be more consistent for panic to ensue as different dinosaurs looked for the quickest route out of and away from the rising water? Would one group leave tracks that were covered by sand or other washed-in sediment, and then another group hours later traverse the same area, leaving tracks in the new layers? Finally as the Flood waters raged over them, would they be carried away and washed somewhere else or perhaps be scavenged by marine predators once they drowned? The answers to these questions are all in the affirmative. So how would this look “on the ground” if we investigated it thousands of years later? We’d see trace fossils (tracks), in jumbled patterns, in different layers, made by creatures not in their usual habitat. Plus we’d find no other fossil evidence of the creatures themselves nearby. Does that sound familiar?

Same Evidence, Different Views

Evolutionists interpret these fossils as evidence that sauropods once splashed around in shallow marine lagoons because fossils in these same layers include marine bivalves (oysters), fish fossil fragments, and shark teeth and spines; and there are no evidences of dessication cracks, meaning the area was constantly underwater. Biblical creationists look at the exact same evidence and interpret it as potential evidence of a panic as floodwaters overwhelmed the coast.

The evolutionists have even overlooked significant observational data in order to derive their lagoon system interpretation.

Indeed, the evolutionists have even overlooked significant observational data in order to derive their lagoon system interpretation. The sediment layers in which these tracks were made are composed of medium to coarse carbonate sand grains, which are not produced in a quiet lagoon system environment. Quite the opposite. Sand grains of such size require fast-moving water currents to transport and deposit them. Rising and falling tidal currents are simply not energetic enough in a marine-brackish lagoon system with marshes to deposit such carbonate sand grains. And even the formation of such medium to coarse carbonate grains requires the destruction of shelly materials elsewhere. These sediments, and their transport and deposition, required more catastrophic conditions than some quiet lagoon complex!

The observational data do not speak for themselves—they must be interpreted. One’s starting point determines how one will interpret the observational data. Evolutionists come to the observational data with the belief that life evolved over millions of years while rock layers were slowly deposited, entombing fossils, and that the geological record thus provides a record of this evolution. They therefore believe that each rock layer shows a different time in earth’s history. Using such interpretations, they claim that the dinosaurs have been extinct since 65 million years ago. So when they approach new observational data, they automatically interpret it through the lens of their worldview. But creationists have a completely different foundation. Starting with God’s Word, creationists believe that the world—including dinosaurs—was created only 6,000 years ago and subsequently was destroyed by a global Flood.

The observational data is exactly the same for an evolutionist or a creationist. It’s the differing foundations—or starting points—that directly influence the interpretation of the observational data. That is why two researchers can reach different conclusions about the same observational data.

Dinosaur Disco or Dance Macabre?

God told Noah, "And behold, I Myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; and everything that is on the earth shall die” (Genesis 6:17). There was judgment coming from God, and all men and air-breathing animals (including dinosaurs) not on the Ark perished (Genesis 7:21–22). Far from being repeated “dinosaur discos” or a pleasant trip down to some lagoons, this appears to be a panicked dance of death for sauropods fleeing the rising waters of the Flood. God’s Word and the Flood account, not evolutionary tales about the past, are consistent with the observed data.

Footnotes

  1. Stephen L. Brusatte, Thomas J. Challands, Dugald A. Ross, and Mark Wilkinson, “Sauropod Dinosaur Trackways in a Middle Jurassic Lagoon on the Isle of Skye, Scotland,” Scottish Journal of Geology, October 26, 2015, doi: 10:1144/sjg2015-005.
  2. Will Dunham, “‘Dinosaur Disco’ Footprints Reveal Lifestyle of Jurassic Giants,” Reuters, December 1, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-science-dinosaur-idUSKBN0TK5B220151201.
  3. Laura Geggel, “An Ancient Nessie? Long-neck Dinos Once Prowled Scottish Lagoon,” Scientific American, December 2, 2015, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/an-ancient-nessie-long-neck-dinos-once-prowled-scottish-lagoon/.

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