Strange Relics from the Depths of the Earth (6): Muddy footprints across the face of time

J.R. Jochmans, Litt.D., 1979

PureInsight | January 3, 2001

Muddy footprints across the face of time

In 1885, Professor J.F. Brown of Berea College, Kentucky was called upon to examine a puzzling find, made 16 miles east of the town of Berea, on Big Hill in Rock Castle County, one of the spurs of the Cumberland Plateau. Near the summit, an old wagon trail cut through a stratum of carboniferous limestone, and removal of earth to widen the trail into a road had exposed a new section of this stratum. As E.A. Allen reported in the American Antiquarian, volume 7, page 39, preserved in the layer were the fossilized impressions of several creatures. What mystified those who witnessed the remains was that among these tracks were two well-preserved prints of a human being. They were described as 'good-sized, toes well spread, and very distinctly marked.'

It was not until 1930 that further and more detailed investigations were performed, this time by Dr. Wilbur Greely Burroughs, head of the geology department at Berea College. Dr. Burroughs discovered a total of twelve 9 1/2-inch mantracks and portions of others, and confirmed that they had indeed been impressed upon gray Pottsville sandstone dating from the Upper Pennsylvanian period -well over 300 million years old.

Several geologists and paleontologists of the conservative school, in search of a face-saving explanation, declared the tracks not to be of human origin, but the marks of some as yet unknown species of amphibian. Dr. Burroughs' research, however, proved otherwise. He described the configuration of the tracks this way, as quoted in the Louisville Courier-Journal, May 24,1953:

'Of these, two pairs show the left foot advanced relative to the right. The position of the feet is the same as that of a person. The distance from heel to heel is 18 inches. One pair shows the feet parallel to each other, the distance between the feet being the same as that of a normal human being.

Dr. Burroughs concluded that the prints were made by a creature that was exclusively bipedal. Most amphibians and reptiles are quadruped - there were no foreleg prints. And those that have been known to walk upright on their hindlegs, always do so with the tail acting as a tripod or 'third leg,' to give balance. As Dr. Burroughs carefully noted, nowhere were there signs of belly or tail marks in the examined stratum. Furthermore, Dr. Burroughs and several of his colleagues performed a microscopic analysis of the mantracks, and based upon the grain count, established that, 'the sand grains within each track are closer together than the grains immediately outside the tracks and elsewhere on the rock for the same kind and same combination of grains, due to the pressure of the creature's foot.' The 'creature,' they found, had exerted a weight pressure a little above that of a modern man. As the Science Newsletter of October 29, 1938 commented, no amphibian or reptile that size has been discovered in the fossil record that walked upright in the Pennsylvanian era.

Finally, the clear impressions showing five toes, ball and heel are totally unrelated to an amphibian's or reptile's physical makeup - only man has a foot like that. Albert G. Ingalls, writing in Scientific American, January, 1940, declared, 'If man existed as far back as in the Carboniferous Period in any shape, then the whole science of geology is so completely wrong that all geologists should resign their jobs and take up truck driving.'

On an outcrop of greyish-blue crinoidal limestone about 200 feet wide and extending along the west bank of the Mississippi for 3 miles just south of St. Louis, are a number of mantrack impressions which a century ago could be observed during low-water stages. The early French explorers along the river were the first to note their existence, and ever since they have created a heated controversy. The first scientific observation of the prints was reported by Henry Schooleraft in The American Journal of Science (volume V), for 1822, and he described them as, 'strikingly natural, exhibiting every muscular impression, and the swell of the heel and toes, with a precision and faithfulness to nature I have not been able to copy.' His colleagues dismissed the tracks as Indian petroglyphs, but Schooleraft was convinced of their natural origin: They had been impressed, he carefully noted, not carved into the limestone. Whoever had made them, Schooleraft also commented, had been of average size: The foot lengths were 10 1/2 inches; width across the outspread toes were 4 inches; and the heels were 2 1/2 inches wide.

The American Antiquarian, volume 7, pages 364-367 (1885) gave the account of another find associated with the St. Louis footprints that is perhaps even more disturbing. Quoting from Priest's 'American Antiquities,' a particular set of tracks was described in detail. Then, 'directly before the prints of these feet, within a few inches, is a well-impressed and deep mark, having some resemblance to a scroll, or roll of parchment, two feet long by a foot in width.' The squared impression was not a natural shape; neither were there scratch marks that would have indicated the patch had been carved. Rather, the evidence points to the parchment impression having been made when the rock was still in a plastic state - made at the same time as the footprints. What such a find suggests is that the prints' owners were not only men, but were men with the intelligence to produce some form of paper sheet - and perhaps write upon it. But as if this were not enough of a mystery, the limestone in which prints and paper appear, is dated to the Mississippian age - 345 million years ago.

Still more finds of prints plunge mankind 'feet first' even farther down into the geologic column. In 1948, a shoe impress was discovered near Lake Windermere, England. As reported in the natural history journal The Field for that year, the impress had been made in Ordovician limestone - an unbelievable 500 million years old. Remarkable too is the finding that the print bears signs of craft and artistry: Around the edge of both the heel and the foreshoe are circular impressions which resemble tacking; while in the center of the sole and heel are faint decorations of linear and flower-like designs. Though the impression is somewhat distorted in shape due to fractures and crevices in the rock surface, a measurement reveals an extended length of the shoe of about 8 inches and a width of 31/2 inches.

On June 1, 1968, an amateur rock hunter, William J. Meister, of Kearns, Utah was visiting nearby Antelope Springs with his family. The area, which includes the Swasey Mountains and the Cambrian Wheeler shale formation, is famous for its many fossils, and on this particular day Meister was on the lookout for fossilized trilobites and brachiopods - according to evolutionary theory, once among the oldest known living creatures. Meister broke off a rock slab, and, tapping its edge with a hammer, it fell open in two pieces, like the leaves of a book. To his great surprise, inside was a human sandal print, pointed in the toes, rounded in the heel, and with a squashed trilobite in the center of the sole. The sandal print measured 10 1/4 inches long, 31/2 inches wide at the ball and 3 inches at the heel. The sandal appears to have been well-worn on the right side - indicating it had been worn on the right foot - and the heel impression is deeper by one-eighth of an inch, characteristic of the weight distribution of humans on the foot. This particular find was later examined by Dr. Hellmut H. Doelling, of the Utah Geological Survey, and he found no irregularities or evidence of fakery - the print was genuine.

On July 20th, Meister returned to Antelope Springs with professional geologist Dr. Clifford Burdick. Digging in the same locality, Burdick discovered another imprint in the Cambrian shale, this time of a child The print was 6 inches long, and the five toes were barely distinguishable, as if the child was wearing moccasins. Yet Burdick detected that the toes were spread out, indicating the child had only begun to wear shoes, which tend to compress the toes with age. The heel and arch were again well depressed, showing weight distribution, and a segment of a fossil was crushed in its middle. Burdick managed to find a larger fossil imprint, like Meister's original, though the impression was shallower, and also unearthed a second child's track, smaller than the first, with the toes broken off, but perfect in its other aspects. Later, a detailed examination revealed that the rock in which the prints were found was made of tiny layers, and where the foot-marks occur, the layers were bowed downward from the horizontal - demonstrating that weight had indeed, been pressed into the once prehistoric mud.

But that 'prehistoric mud' with its tell-tale prints, is now Cambrian shale - an astounding 600 million years old. And the fossils in the prints are trilobites - supposed to be among the earliest forms of life on earth. This time, we have literally hit 'rock bottom' in the fossil record - and yet here we find the presence of man, and an intelligent, shoe-wearing man at that. How could he have 'evolved' from simple life, when the Cambrian prints testify that he is as old as life itself?

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