The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

A Review of NBC's "The Mysterious Origins of Man"
Copyright © 1996 by Glen J. Kuban

[This article is being mirrored from]

On Sunday, February 25, 1996 at 7:00 pm EST NBC aired a one-hour TV special hosted by Charton Heston entitled "The Mysterious Origins of Man." A "promo" Web page by BC Video descriped the program as "Controversial Evidence That Could Rewrite Man's History"

Rather than being an objective documentary on human origins, or legitimate scientific debate about the subject, the show promoted many unfounded and pseudoscientific claims, presented a very misleading picture of the way science works, and largely ignored what mainstream scientists have to say on these subjects.

The program was particularly unscientific in its endorsement of alleged evidence that humans and dinosaurs lived together. In advancing this concept (rejected by all mainstream workers to my knowledge), the program presented the following three items of evidence, all implied to have come from the Paluxy Riverbed near Glen Rose Texas (an area famous for fossil dinosaur tracks):

1. The "Burdick Print," a supposed giant man track on a loose block of rock
2. A photo supposedly showing a striding trail of human tracks in the Paluxy
3. An alleged fossilized human finger.

However, none of these claims can be substantiated. I have spent over fifteen years investigating the Paluxy "man tracks" and related claims, and have written extensively on the subject. I would like to address each of these claims as examples of the shallow research and credibility of the show.

In the program, "Dr. Carl Baugh" and "Don Patton" advocated the authenticity of the Burdick print, claiming that the subsurface features demonstrated that it was real, and that it was known to have come from the Paluxy riverbed. In reality, the Burdick print (named after creationist Clifford Burdick,[1] who first publicly promoted it) is considered by most researchers to be one of several loose "man tracks" carved by Glen Rose residents during the 1930's. Besides being very large (over 15 inches heel to toe) it shows severe anatomic problems, including an excessively wide ball area, misplaced arch, and excessively long and misshapen toes. Contrary to Baugh and Patton's claims, the subsurface features in the cross sections do not prove it's authenticity, but actually confirm the carved origin-- showing many features that truncate abruptly at the depression rather than being deformed by or conformed to them.[2,3] A final important point about the Burdick print is that it was not found or documented in situ, and is thus of no antievolutionary value.

The photo presented as evidence of a striding trail of human prints excavated by Baugh, is nothing of the sort. First, it is not a photo taken during one of Baugh's excavations, but shows the Taylor Trail on the Taylor Site, as photographed by Fredrick Beierle[4] in the late 1970's--over a decade before Baugh started working in the Paluxy. Second, the Taylor Trail is not a human trackway, but is one of many trackways of elongate, metatarsal dinosaur tracks that have been mistaken for giant human tracks in the Paluxy. Such tracks were made by dinosaurs which walked, at least at times, in a plantigrade-like manner, impressing their soles and heels as they walked (rather than in a more common digitigrade locomotion of most bipedal dinsosaurs). When the digits of such tracks are subdued by erosion, mud-collapse, infilling, or a combination of factors, they often resemble large human footprints. On the Taylor Site, infilling and mud-collapse were the major factors.[5,6] However, all of the trails on the Taylor Site show indications of dinosaurian digits when the substrate is well cleaned.[7] In Beierle's photo the track surface was not well cleaned, and the individual prints were selectively moistended with water to encourage human shapes.

After I and others published extensive evidence of these findings in the mid-1980's, most creationists abandoned the Paluxy claims. Baugh, however, began claiming that the prints were dinosaur tracks with human tracks within them--an assertion as empty as the original "man track" claims.[8,9,10]

Other alleged human tracks near Glen Rose that have been promoted by Baugh and others over the years include partial metatarsal dinsosaur tracks, erosional markings (often selectively highlighted with water or oil for photography), and various indistinct depressions of uncertain origin. I do not know of any reliable evidence of genuine human footprints in the Paluxy or any other Mesozoic formation. By the way, the age of the Glen Rose Formation is lower Cretaceous (approximately at the Aptian/Albian boundary), or 110-115 million years old (not 135 million as stated in the show).[11]

The alleged fossilized finger promoted by Baugh and associates is more likely just an interesting shaped rock or concretion. I was allowed to personally examine the "finger" several years ago, and saw nothing in it to suggest it is a fossil of any sort. Nor do I know any mainstream scientist or regards it as a fossilized finger. Contrary to the suggestions in the NBC show, it does not show bones in the CT scans. The dark area in the center of the scans are not well defined and are likely due to differences in the density of rock at the middle of the concretion, or the greater mass of rock the rays passed through at the center than the edge of the rock. Last, a key point that Baugh did not reveal in the show is that the "finger" was not found in situ, but rather in a loose gravel pit some distance from Glen Rose. Therefore, like the Burdick print it cannot be reliably linked to an ancient formation, and is of no antievolutionary value, even if it were a real fossilized finger.

It should also be mentioned that "Dr." Baugh misrepresented his credentials on the show and on numerous prior occassions. He has claimed advanced degrees in several fields of science, but in actually has no valid degrees whatsoever. [12]

It is also curious that the program producers implied that the Glen Rose objects prove that humans lived with the dinosaurs many millions of years ago, whereas Baugh, Patton, and other strict creationists do not believe this. Instead, they ironically use the same objects to argue that both humans and dinosaurs lived together in the recent past.

Not only are Baugh and Patton's claims usupported by the evidence and rejected by mainstream scientists, but both are widely considered to be disreputable even by many creationists. In a Web page response to questions about Baugh, Answers in Genesis, a sister group of the Creation Science Foundation, listed numerous unsubstantiated claims by Baugh, and stated at their web site, "All creationist scientists that we have spoken to regard Dr. [sic] Baugh's teaching as a serious embarassment."[13]

The show also promoted many other dubious claims, including a supposedly anamolous "Calavaras skull" which was well refuted long ago [14,15], and an alleged plesiosaur (prehistoric marine reptile) dredged up off the coast of Japan. The program suggested only "skeptics" suggested the carcase was that of a shark. Actually most mainstream scientists have concluded this, based on results of tissue samples taken from the specimen before it was thrown overboard, and from the known tendency of basking sharks to decay into "pseudo-plesiosaur" carcasses.[16]

It is hard to understand how the producers could have done even a small amount of research and not found out many of these things. But then, from all indications the aim of the show was not education or accuracy, but sensationalism. Shame on the producers for making such a pseudo-scientific program, on NBC for airing it, and on Charleton Heston for giving it the sound of authority.

Post Script:

NBC's program prompted a hailstorm of criticism from scientists, many of whom sent letters and messages pointing out the many errors and misreprestations in the show. However, NBC decided to rub salt into the wound by rebroadcasting the original program on June 8, 1996, using the "controversy" it generated as a selling point. NBC should now be doubly ashamed of themselves. They not only have shown no interest in correcting errors, but apaprently have deliberately chosen to further spread misinformation for the sake of ratings. Evidently money means more to them than honesty and accuracy in their programming.

NBC cannot rationalize this as a legitimate scientific debate, any more than one could rationalize a program promoting a flat earth. The program was tabloid-level sensationalism and pseudoscience misrepresented as cutting edge research. Do you not care that millions of viewers, old and young alike, were misled and misinformed by this program? Where is your integrity?

For those interested in further information and comments on the NBC program, including a list of sposors, producers, and others connected with the show (to who you may wish to write), please see the review by Jim Foley at: Another good review by Frank Steiger is available at

Glen J. Kuban
President, The Fossil Society of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History
P.O. Box 33232, North Royalton, OH 44133

You may contact Glen by e-mail here

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[1] Burdick, Clifford C., "When Giants Roamed the Earth," Signs of the Times, July 25, 1950; Morris, Henry M., and John C. Whitcomb, 1961, The Genesis Flood, Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, MI, pp. 173-175

[2] Neufeld, Berney, 1975, "Dinosaur Tracks and Giant Men", Origins, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 64-76.

[3] Cole, John R., and Laurie R. Godfrey, eds., 1985, Creation/Evolution, Issue 15, Vol. 5, No. 1, pages 16-21.

[4] Beierle, Fred, 1977, Man, Dinosaurs, and History, Prosser, WA: Perfect Printing Co.

[5] Kuban, Glen, 1986a, The Taylor Site "Man Tracks," Origins, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 1-9

[6] Kuban, Glen, 1986b, Elongate Dinosaur Tracks, In: Gillette, David D. and Martin G. Lockley, eds., Dinosaur Tracks and Traces, 1989, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 57-72;

[7] Kuban, Glen, 1986c, Color Distinctions and Other Curious Features of Dinosaur Tracks Near Glen Rose, Texas, In: Gillette, David D. and Martin G. Lockley, eds., Dinosaur Tracks and Traces, 1989, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 427-440

[8] Hastings, Ronnie J., 1987, New Observations on Paluxy Tracks Confirm Their Dinosaurian Origin, Journal of Geological Education, Vol. 35, No. 1, pp. 4-15.

[9] Hastings, Ronnie J., 1988, Rise and Fall of the Paluxy Man Tracks, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (Journal of the ASA), Vol. 40, No. 3, pp. 144-155.

[10] Kuban, Glen J., 1989, Retracking Those Incredible Man Tracks, NCSE Reports, Vol. 9, No. 4, Special Section.

[11] Farlow, James O., 1987, Lower Cretaceous Dinosaur Tracks, Paluxy River Valley, Texas, SCGSA, Waco, Tx.

[12] Kuban, Glen J. 1989, A Matter of Degree, NCSE Reports, Vol. 9, No. 6,, pp. 15-18.

[13] Web page of Creation Science Foundation.

[14] Boutwell, John Mason, 1911, The Calavaras skull shown to be of recent origin. U.S. Geologic Survey Professional Paper., No. 73, 54-55, U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA.

[15] Tarzia, Wade, 1994, Forbidden Archaeology. Creation/ Evolution. Issue 34, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Summer 1994), p. 13-25.

[16] This find has been reported in many creationist articles, none of which have provided persuasive evidence that this was a plesiosaur. The carcass reportedly was thrown back into the water to avoid spoiling a fish catch. Tissue samples were taken, however, and were consistent with a shark identification.

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