PureInsight | January 3, 2001
Muddy footprints across the face of time
Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington once wrote: 'We have found a strange footprint on the shores of the unknown. We have devised profound theories, one after another, to account for its origin. At last we have succeeded in reconstructing the creature that made the footprint. And lo! it is our own.' There is more truth in this statement than first meets the eye, for there are many instances where not only did man leave his remains in the rock strata, but also his imprint.
In 1884, Earl Flint, a geologist representing the Peabody Museum and Harvard University, discovered in a rock quarry near Managua, Nicaragua, on the shores of Lake Gilva, a layer containing fossilized human tracks, 16 to 24 feet below the surface. Flint described the tracks in these words, written in 1884:
'The footprints are from one-half to three inches in depth and none exceeded eighteen inches. Some of the impressions are nearly closed, the soft surface falling back into the impression, and a crevice about two inches in width is all one sees, and my first glance at some parallel to one less deep, gave me an idea that the owner of the latter was using a stave to assist him in walking. In some the substance flowed outward, leaving a ridge around it - seen in one secured for the museum; the stride is variable, owing to the size of the person, and the changing nature of the surface passed over. The longest one uncovered was seventeen inches, length of foot ten inches, and width four inches, feet arched, steps in a right line, measured from center of heel to center of great toe over three steps. The people making them were going both ways in a direction consonant to that of the present lake shore east and west, more or less.'
Among these, and others in nearby sites, Flint found examples of both barefoot and well-defined sandaled-foot impressions. All were geologically dated as being over 200,000 years of age. Now supposedly at this remote time, man was nothing more than a naked, hairy creature, capable of chipping a few flints and just beginning to overcome his fear of fire. In sharp contrast, the Nicaragua finds reveal the intelligent use of a walking stick, and the wearing of sandals that appear to have been best designed for both comfort and protection. We are confronted here with not just the footprint of a half-beast, but rather the footprint of a civilized being.
Two years earlier, in the summer of 1882, inmates working in the quarry at the State Prison near Carson City, Nevada, brought to light a layer of sandstone covered with fossilized animal tracks, among them a number having belonged to the extinct mammoth. What caused considerable scientific consternation, however, was the fact that several human tracks were also found. The tracks were in six series, each with alternate right and left tracks. The stride was from two and a half to over three feet, and the individual prints were from 18 to 20 inches in length - that of a giant. The straddle - the distance between the lines of left and right prints - was 18 to 19 inches. Geologist Joseph Le Conte read a paper on the investigation done on the Carson City tracks to the California Academy of Science on August 27,1882, and attempted to explain them as the marks left by an extinct giant sloth that lived during the late Pliocene - over 2 million years ago. But sloths, in order to walk upright on only two feet, as the fossil tracks indicate, would have had to have used their tails as a balance, and there were no tail grooves in the sandstone. Not only this, but a comparison between the Carson City tracks and known sloth impressions showed several dissimilarities. The sloth's prints have marked toe protuberances as well as definite claw marks; the Carson City tracks have neither. The Carson City tracks, in fact, showed signs that their maker had worn some type of sandal or foot protection - very definitely not the habit of an animal.
The May 25, 1969 issue of the Tulsa Sunday World carried the story of a curious fossil find made on a hilltop overlooking the eastern part of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The find was made by Troy Johnson, a field geologist of thirteen years' experience, and though he showed plaster-casts of his discovery to several experts, each and every one refused to accept it or its implications. Johnson had unearthed a sandstone strata filled with fossil tracks - many five-toed and distinctly human. The fact that a number of examples of these were overlaid by the tracks of now extinct creatures demonstrated that the mantracks could not have been of recent origin, but dated back between 3 and 5 million years.
One remarkable mantrack find was reported in the Soviet journal (no. 8, 1961). In 1959, a joint Russian-Chinese paleontological expedition under the direction of Dr. Chou Ming Chen, discovered in the Gobi Desert of central Asia the fossilized print of a shoe with a ribbed sole. The find appears in sandstone dated at 15 million years. Members of the expedition who carefully examined the shoe-print were quick to recognize that it was not the footmark of any animal, for the ribbing was too straight and regular to be of natural origin.
Even more recent examples of foot and shoe prints were brought to light in the 1970's, in the Carrizo Valley in northwest Oklahoma. The prints occur in both the Morrison formation and Dakota sandstone - over 100 million years old. The bare foot marks are somewhat eroded, but show evidence of definite pressure ridges. Several are in very close proximity to dinosaur tracks. The shoe prints are more clearly defined, and reveal their wearers to have been above normal size, with the imprints averaging 20 inches long and 8 inches across the ball of the foot.