Posted by: paulgarner | February 10, 2010

New dinosaur track site in China

There’s an interesting report on the BBC website concerning a new dinosaur track site at Zhucheng, eastern Shandong province, China. More than 3,000 footprints representing at least six different species, including tyrannosaurs, coelurosaurs and hadrosaurs, have been discovered on a 2,600 square metre horizon. The footprints are described as all facing the same way – not an uncommon observation when multiple dinosaur trackways are present. The report says that “they could represent a migration or a panicked attempt to escape predators”, although other possibilities might suggest themselves from a flood geology perspective.



  1. Paul, I assume you’re just making that statement out of ignorance of what the site was like.

    These tracks are found in MULTIPLE LEVELS.

    According to your statement, what happened is:

    The Flood comes. Animals flee, leaving tracks. The Flood arrives, somehow preserving tracks.

    The Flood retreats. Animals return.

    The Flood comes. Animals flee, leaving tracks. The Flood arrives, somehow preserving tracks.

    The Flood retreats. Animals return.

    The Flood comes. Animals flee, leaving tracks. The Flood arrives, somehow preserving tracks.

    Are you seriously claiming that, or did you just not realize the tracks were on separate levels?

    • I’m genuinely interested to know where you got the information about the tracks being on multiple stratigraphic levels. I’ve read several news reports about this discovery – which is all we seem to have right now – and none of them suggested that the tracks were on multiple levels. You might be right, it’s just that I haven’t seen anything that says that yet.

      If it does turn out to be the case it wouldn’t actually be that unusual. Quite a number of dinosaur track sites around the world have footprints on multiple horizons. But the typical features of such localities raise some interesting questions. One could argue, as Oard (2009) has done, that the consistent alignment of dinosaur tracks, the abundance of tracks on particular horizons rather than throughout sections, the similarity of tracks on vertically separated track horizons and so on are features more readily explained by catastrophic scenarios and short timescales.


      Oard M. 2009. Dinosaur tracks, eggs, and bonebeds, in: Oard M., Reed, J. K. (editors), Rock Solid Answers: The Biblical Truth Behind 14 Geological Questions, Master Books, Green Forest, Arkansas, pp.245-258.


    “The footprints in at least three layers are rare in the world in terms of both their number and total size, they said.”

    I think your term “catastrophic scenarios” is telling. Note the plural. Having an area that is prone to local flooding, is a perfectly plausible explanation for why there might be consistent groupings of oriented tracks. I don’t know if that fits all the details of this particular site, but it doesn’t have any glaring unlikelihood.

    Having a worldwide deluge that floods the entire earth in a month or two and has currents powerful enough to rip tens of thousands of cubic kilometers of soil off the surface (sometimes largely intact) and transport them hundreds of kilometers (again, sometimes fairly intact) ….

    Having that sort of flood, do a back and forth, back and forth, back and forth over lots of different areas while the animals apparently go back and forth following the flooding waters back and forth so they can leave lots of tracks on lots of levels.

    Is that what you’re suggesting?

    • Thanks for the link. It looks as though there are at least three track-bearing horizons which isn’t that unusual. Some localities have a lot more than three stacked levels of footprints.

      I see no insuperable difficulty in forming successive horizons of dinosaur tracks during the global flood. Most of these tracks are found on extensive flat bedding planes. (In fact that’s noteworthy in itself). In circumstances where there is little to no topographic relief, even very minor tectonism would be sufficient to expose and then re-inundate large tracts of land. One also has to remember that an animal can leave a lot of tracks in a short period of time. Apparently a single horse can produce over 10,000 footprints in a day! And, as I pointed out previously, there are common features of these horizons which are difficult to explain in terms of longer time periods, e.g. the abundance of tracks on particular horizons, the similarity of tracks on vertically separated horizons, the rarity of certain types of dinosaur tracks (young juveniles, stegosaurs, ankylosaurs, ceratopsians), and so on.

  3. From what I can tell, you’re suggesting that it was some tectonic activity that might have raised and lowered the land.

    So, if I have this correctly:

    Coming Flood waters have the animals going in a certain direction, presumably away from the coming waters. The waters come, dropping down several feet of mud and lock in the the tracks.

    Then some tectonic upheaval lifts that area out of the water. From somewhere some more animals come into that area, from a different direction from the direction the first animals were originally going.

    Tectonics start the area sinking again, and animals again go running, again in the same direction. In comes more water and drops more mud which locks in the tracks.

    Then more upheaval comes along and raises the area again above the waters. Again, from somewhere different from where the first and second group of animals were going, more animals come into the area.

    Whoops, more tectonic action comes and down goes the land again and there go the animals, running along and leaving their tracks, fleeing from the (now third time) coming Flood.

    Is that what you’re saying happened?

    • No, I think that’s your caricature of what happened. As one author pointed out, with floodwaters about 1 km deep, a tiny one degree difference in slope over a transect 100 km long would translate to a 43 km stretch of exposed land. Even very minor tectonic adjustments would result in the repeated emergence and submergence of land during the Flood.

  4. I’ve always been confused about creationist explanations for trace fossils. Tracks like these are taken as evidence that dinosaurs were running away from a giant flood in a panic, but I’ve also seen creationists argue that dinosaurs were laying eggs and building nests during the supposed Flood as well (e.g., Such ad hoc apologetics just seem contradictory to me. If these animals were really running away from flood waters, would we expect them to be building nests at the same time? Would we expect termites to be building giant termite mounds? Would we expect predators to be scavenging carcases? Trace fossils seem like a good test of the Flood hypothesis, but rather than viewing them as such, most creation scientists appear to treat them as minor annoyances to be explained away with a wave of the hand. No?

    • Just read your latest post with regards to termite mounds, Paul, and take your point. Even if those “termite mounds” ultimately prove not to be such, I think my point still stands: The fossil record preserves many traces of animal behaviour that we just would not expect to see in a global flood event. I would argue that this test falsifies the Flood hypothesis. I get the impression that the response from the creation science community is simply “the Flood definitely happened, but we just don’t understand its complexities yet”.

      • Actually I think the questions you pose are good ones. What kind of behaviours would animals like dinosaurs be expected to engage in during a flood that was global in extent and many months in duration? What would they do, for example, if they found themselves on an exposed tract of freshly deposited sediment, perhaps after swimming for a while? Would they walk around? Run? Lie down? Eat? Deposit eggs? I think we claim too much if we say that we know. Modern local and regional catastrophes offer only partial analogues to the flood event, and the animals in question, the dinosaurs, are extinct. But I think the study of ichnofossils may help creationists to answer precisely these kinds of questions.

        • Paul, if you’re unwilling to admit that nesting behaviour would be unexpected of animals fleeing a global torrent intended to destroy all life on earth, I have to wonder what features of the sedimentary record WOULD be incompatible with a global flood scenario. Are there any?

          • How about a complete absence of global and continent-wide sedimentary packages and palaeocurrent trends?

        • Your statement about what would animals do if they’ve been swimming for a couple hours and find themselves on a sediment patch sort of demonstrates what Jordan is talking about.

          The Flood is usually portrayed as global, extraordinarily powerful, and capable of ripping up millions of cubic kilometers of soil and carrying it hundreds of miles before dropping it down again. The Flood was so fierce that the entire earth was completely covered and nothing on land survived after just 40 days.

          But then we suddenly have suggestions here of lots of very non-aquatic creatures surviving by swimming for just a couple hours and then finding their footing on newly-laid sediment!!! Then, they’re there long enough to do things like make nests. And then they get swept off again. And more sediment comes, and then more animals come, and they make more nests.

          That’s sort of like the Coconino tracks formed on sandwaves – the tracks (according to one study) look like they might have been made in shallow and slow-running currents, but the waves are said to have formed under 300 feet of rapidly rushing water.

          Which is it? 300 feet of rushing water or tracks in shallow, slow water?

          Which is it? Massive floods ripping up thousands of cubic km of soil destroying all land life, or is it a gentle inundation that lets land animals survive by just swimming for a couple hours and then landing on sediment that the slow-moving water somehow picked up and deposited?

          And, in my comment I asked about your suggestion of tectonic movement – is it a gentle flooding with the land going up and down, up and down, up and down, with animals returning and then going, returning and then going, returning and then going? Or, is it a massive Flood coming in and rearranging the surface of the earth under thousands of feet of ripped-up and dumped dirt?

          These aren’t questions that seem to have answers of “it might be this, or it might be that, but whichever case the answer is reasonable.”

          No, these are questions to which the answers given have been totally contradictory to each other.

          • Where to begin? I don’t think you’re reckoning seriously with the complexities of a global event like the flood. I know that kind of echoes what Jordan was saying about how creationists respond, but I think it’s true nevertheless. For one thing, the inundatory phase of the flood was longer than 40 days – I think the biblical text indicates 150 days. And it wasn’t all equally violent – sedimentation rates must have varied from time to time and place to place, tectonics must have elevated and depressed blocks of land, and there must have been localized transgressions and regressions superimposed on the overall global trends. I know you’ll dismiss those as ad hoc hypotheses, but it’s actually difficult to imagine how a global flood could have been otherwise. Interpreting the geological record in terms of such an event is inevitably challenging, but who ever said it would be easy? As for the Coconino, I don’t want to go over old ground – we’ve done that to death elsewhere – but you’ve basically got the same problem I have: how to explain both the tracks and the evidence favouring underwater deposition. My view is that a Flood model will end up doing a better job.

          • Webmonk, I think you’ve done a good job of voicing my frustration with Flood geology (if not creation science as a whole). We’re told that the floodwaters were so calm as to preserve the most delicate trace fossils, yet so violent as to carve the Grand Canyon when they receded (a time when Paul just finished saying elsewhere that the waters regressed gradually). We’re told that the animals left behind were forced to flee for their lives in the face of rising waters, but stopped every once in a while to build a nest, scavenge a carcass, or make a reef. We’re told that the floodwaters prevailed high above the world’s tallest mountains, yet were shallow enough to allow things like desiccation cracks, raindrop impressions, and footprints to be preserved throughout the sedimentary record.
            You’re right, Webmonk: these are contradictory claims. And simply reminding myself that the Flood was a complex and hard-to-understand event just doesn’t make these problems go away. It almost sounds like the Flood was depositing so much sediment that, were I there, I would have only been up to my ankles in water at any one time.

            • As with WebMonk’s posts on this thread, I almost don’t know where to start clearing up the misconceptions. When did I ever claim that Grand Canyon was carved by the receding floodwaters, or that fleeing organisms stopped every now and then to build reefs? You beg a lot of questions too. Take “desiccation” cracks, for example – you’ve added a layer of interpretation onto the observations right there. John Whitmore’s chapter on mud cracks in Rock Solid Answers provides an idea of how field data often sheds a different light altogether on how these things actually formed. Your objections are good knock-about anti-creationism, but I’m not sure they count as a genuine attempt to engage with the issues.


              Whitmore J. 2009. Do mud cracks indicate multiple droughts during the Flood?, in: Oard M., Reed, J. K. (editors), Rock Solid Answers: The Biblical Truth Behind 14 Geological Questions, Master Books, Green Forest, Arkansas, pp.167-183.

              • Hi Paul,

                No, you did not claim that the receding floodwaters carved the Grand Canyon. I assumed you believe as much because this is the common understanding among creationists. Steve Austin is often quoted on this matter, and I have not seen any creationist contradict him. If you have a different interpretation about how the canyon formed, I would be interested in hearing it.
                You also made no mention of reef formation during the Flood, but this must have been the case as reefs are known from throughout the fossil record.
                I don’t have access to the Whitmore article you cited. Does he make the case that all mud cracks in the sedimentary record are syneresis cracks? This is the creationist argument I’m familiar with, though I don’t find it likely.

                • Hi Jordan,

                  With respect to Grand Canyon being carved by the receding floodwaters, I don’t know whether that’s the common understanding among creationists, but it isn’t my view – and neither is it Steve Austin’s view. Steve’s view, which I share, is that the canyon was carved by a catastrophic breaching event some time into the post-Flood era, which resulted in the drainage of large post-Flood lakes that had developed on the Colorado Plateau.

                  Nor do I think we are forced to hypothesize that organisms were building wave-resistant, framework-bound reefs during the Flood as some critics suggest, although it’s possible that in isolated spots where sedimentation rates were low some small structures of this kind might have developed. I suspect that the structures described as reefs in the Flood-deposited part of the geological record are mostly not reefs in that sense. Many are simply piles of transported reef organisms or fossil fragments floating in a finer matrix of carbonate mud. Others may represent re-deposited pre-Flood reef blocks. In addition, microbial blooms during the Flood probably played a role in rapidly binding loose accumulations of fossiliferous carbonate mud – the importance of microbes for depositing and lithifying carbonates being increasingly recognized in the literature.

                  On mud cracks, John Whitmore’s chapter in Rock Solid Answers reviews the various kinds of cracks that occur in the sedimentary record (including desiccation cracks, synaeresis cracks, diastasis cracks, molar tooth structures, clastic dikes and sand intrusions). He describes the characteristics of each based on surveys of the relevant literature and highlights some of the problems of identification and interpretation. As John points out, mud crack horizons need to be carefully studied to see whether is actually evidence of desiccation and he implies that many times conclusions are reached on inadequate evidence.

  5. The evidence “favoring” underwater deposition is shaky, at best, but as you said that’s a different topic.

    The earth was completely covered by day 40, and the land animals and birds were dead by day 40, or soon enough thereafter to make no difference (some birds might have survived for a while by flying – Albatross for example).

    So within that 40 day window of time, the waters had to rise at least a mile, probably more. That’s over 130 feet per day! Afterward they may have continued to rise, but you know by at least day 40 the land was completely covered and all the animals were dead.

    With water rising like that (ripping up and depositing massive amounts of soil which just points out these were NOT calm waters) there’s no opportunity for the up and down, up and down motion to be bringing land in and out of the Flood waters and land animals to survive swimming in that environment and be washed in and out, in and out, in and out to leave their tracks and build their nests.

    Rinse and repeat multiple times, all within 40 days!?!

    There are tracks in each and every layer of strata all the way down through the Cambrian (and below, but some things I’ve read have put the Cambrian as the first Flood layer, which causes its own set of issues) – which means there must have been dozens of instances where a section of land came back up above the waters, animals left tracks, and then the land went back down (or the waters again rose over it – 130 ft per day, remember).

    How do you get tracks in different strata AND in different layers within the strata on top of each other? Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, etc, etc.

    With the land appearing and reappearing time after time after time, with hundreds of feet of sediment being deposited constantly, presumably with currents strong enough to be moving said sediment, how on earth can there be animals surviving swimming for days/weeks on end (and many of those animals, like Acrocanthosaurus for example, REALLY weren’t made for swimming!) to be washed in, time after time after time, to keep leaving prints and nests?

    On one hand you seem to be requiring a relatively calm water environment for animals to be able to survive swimming for extended periods of time.

    Then you also need incredibly violent waters rushing along to rip up, transport, and deposit soil.

    You need extremely violent tectonic movement to shove land up dozens of feet to get above the waters, and you need it to happen many times in that 40 days, and then you need the waters to again over take the land, or have the land sink back down. (violent tectonics doesn’t suggest swimming waters for animals) Let’s say it takes 10-15 days for the waters to flood the ground the first time, and then it’s all over (for the animals) by day 40 at the very latest – that gives around 25-30 days for the different layers of tracks to be laid down? (there’s an area in Massachussetts that has 20+ different layers with tracks in all of them!) That’s what? A day for each entire cycle to happen, up and down. (and any animals swimming would be washed AWAY from the uprising land)

    But you also need for the animals to have time to do things like building nests which takes a lot longer than a day or two.

    You have wildly conflicting needs. Flood geology seems to make rationales for specific possibilities without considering the larger picture.

    Wild waters vs Swimming waters.
    Rapid up and down tectonics vs time for animals to do things like nests.
    Deep, rapid water for sand waves vs slow shallow water for some prints.

    It’s one thing to say something internally-coherent, and then argue about evidence pro or con.

    It’s a totally different thing for the proposition to have self-contradictory requirements.

    • I thought long and hard about whether to approve your latest post because I really don’t get the impression from your tone that you’re interested in meaningful dialogue and engagement. I don’t mind objections being raised, or people disagreeing, but frankly if you’re just looking for a platform to ridicule and caricature the creationist position then I’m afraid my blog isn’t it. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to go through your post and respond to each misconception, especially when I’ve already addressed several of them and you just ignore what I said.

      I’d also advise a little caution when you proclaim the evidence for underwater deposition of the Coconino to be “shaky”. The team I’m working with has been intensively studying the Coconino Sandstone for the last several years, with hundreds of hours of fieldwork, literature review and petrography behind us. I can tell you that many of the confident statements about the Coconino in the published literature are incorrect and can be shown to be so.

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