Fossils and fossil-like objects that turn up in forms or locations conventional wisdom says they should not. For example, fossils of animals known to have existed at a certain point in geologic time but are found earlier than that: fossils known to be found in certain geographic locations that are found elsewhere; mixes of incongruous fossils or modern artifacts found as fossils. Mainstream science acknowledges the existence of most anomalous fossils and has prosaic ways of explaining them. There is another class of anomalous fossils that are rejected by science but championed by creationists and other anti-evolutionists as proof that evolution does not work. It is this class of anomalous fossils that constitute pseudoscience. Each of these examples has turned out to be a misidentification or hoax.
The word “fossil” comes from the Latin fossus for something dug out of the ground. There are two types of genuine fossils: the remains of once-living creatures turned to stone or otherwise preserved, and fossils made by the actions of living things – footprints, impressions of sea shells – or nature – raindrops, waves on a beach, and the like. There are a number of ways the remains of a living thing can become a fossil, but the most common is for the remains to be saturated and replaced by sediment which eventually turns to stone, eliminating the original organic material but leaving an exact copy. It takes anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 years for this process to take place. The ratio of fossils compared to the original population of organisms ever become fossils. The age of fossils is determined through radiometric dating, which measures the atomic decay rate of the surrounding stone, or matrix, in which the fossil is lodged. Radiometric dating has advanced to a point that it can give highly accurate and reliable results.
Creationists often point to geologic formation and conventional fossils to argue that, far from supporting evolution, they actually support the creation model. They also employ the most dubious examples. Creationists have searched the world and written records for peculiar fossils, ones that would topple and upset accepted notions about the course of human evolution. One of the most often cited o these anomalous fossils is the “Meister Print,” from Utah. This strange artifact was found in 1968 by fossil hunter William Meister. He was prospecting for trilobites in 500 million-year-old strata known as the Wheeler Formation when he cracked open a slab to find what looked like a human shoe print that had crushed a lie trilobite under its heel. Anti-evolutionists and anomalists seized upon the print as evidence that humans had trod the earth well before the time scientists said they did. The Meister Print was held as proof that the fossil record, the geologic time scale, and the very notion of human evolution were false. Several studies showed the print was, in reality, and example of a common geologic occurrence known as spalling, in which slabs of rock break away from each other in distinctive patterns. This particular case of spalling had created a simulacrum vaguely suggestive of a shoe print. After this determination of prosaic natural causes was put forth in the 1980s, some creationists refused to acknowledge the print, while others continued to recognize it.
Similar fossil footprints have turned up fairly regularly since the 19th century, and each time creationists got excited that this may be the one that would destroy the edifice of evolutionary thinking. There have been supposed human skulls found under lava millions of years old; in the Americas, coins were found embedded in stone from ages before coins were first manufactured; and, one of the most popular creationists artifacts, a modern hammer has been found locked in a mass of sedimentary rock. These discoveries were gleefully put forward with calls for scientists to explain them. When examined, they all turned out to be misidentifications of other things, hoaxes, or, like the Meister Print, simply examples of people not understanding what they are looking at.
A major compendium of such anomalous fossils and other evidence of the falsity of human evolution theory can be found in Forbidden Archaeology (1994) by Michael Cremo and Richard Thompson. Besides the sheer mass of material they collected, what makes this book unique within the genre is that the authors are not Christian fundamentalists, but rather Hindu followers of Krishna Consciousness. Although they cited much the same material as the Christians and other antievolutionists, they argue the human race was not very young but instead immensely old – for older than even evolutionists are willing to allow. They claimed modern humans appeared through divine intervention more than 55 million years ago and that ancient Vedic scripture told the true story of how humans came to be. That their thesis was different from other antievolutionists did not keep them from falling into the same traps. They quoted evolutionists out of context and accepted vague, century-old accounts of anomalous fossils while dismissing modern scientific ones backed up with meticulously gathered documentation. This is a common technique in antievolution and anomalist circles. Cremo and Thompson argue that there is a concerted effort on the part of the “evolution establishment” to suppress any evidence that contradicts mainstream thinking. They share this notion with others. In their seminal work on anomalous artifacts and events, Phenomena: A Book of Wonders (1979), John Michell and Bob Rickard argued that “some of these evidences have been actually suppressed and deliberately ignored: some have quietly and mysteriously disappeared from museum stores and records.” Yet they give the devil his due by saying that accepting that humans were around hundreds of millions of years ago based on such scanty evidence was “irrational.” Since the 1990s, Christian creationists have claimed that the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC has housed a collection of artifacts that were obviously intelligently designed, but that the designers were and what purposes the artifacts served were unknown. The Smithsonian disavows having any such collection.
An enduring belief within creationist circles has been that humans coexisted with the dinosaurs, and if proof could be found that they did the entire human evolution edifice would crumble. To support the contention, believers point to the “man tracks” of Texas. They argue that what paleontologists call dinosaur tracks are, in reality, human footprints frozen forever in mud and turned to stone. The tracks were first discovered in 1917 along the banks of the Paluxy river outside the town of Glen Rose, Texas. That region of Texas had been a floodplain 70 million years ago, as the Gulf of Mexico extended much farther inland than it does today. Many of the tracks were clearly those of dinosaurs, but a few took on odd shapes because of the distortion caused by the animals slipping and sliding in the wet mud. It was these tracks that creationists argued were human footprints. Roland T. Bird (1899-1978), the American Museum of National History excavator who did the first extensive work at Glen Rose in the 1930s, tried to convince people that the prints were just deformed dinosaur tracks.
Two recent anomalous fossils that have become the rage in antievolutionist and creationist circles are the “Limestone Cowboy boot,” and the “clock in the rock.” The former is an obviously modern cowboy boot that is encrusted with a stony matrix in which are encased a number of bones. Creationists Carl Baugh and Donald Patton have been the primary promoters of the cowboy boot, which is said to have been discovered in 1980 near the Texas town of Iran. The boot was determined to be of a type that could be accurately dated to 1950. A number of creationists and Young Earth proponents have also claimed the boot is “40 Million Years Old!” No tests have been done to authenticate the boot’s fossil status. Tests have been made, but the results have not been made public as of yet. Photos of the artifact even bring in to doubt if the bones inside the boot are human. Baugh has since stepped away from claims about the boot. Patton has a history of promoting the modernity of “fossil humans” that have turned out to be recent burials, Malachite Man being one well-known example. At the 2005 Creation Mega Conference in Virginia, Patton famously stated that one need not know anything about human anatomy in order to know human evolution was a sham.
The “clock in the rock” is a slightly older object that was found near Westport, Washington in 1975. It is the remains of the internal parts of a wind-up clock encrusted with a hard matrix including seashells. Geologists pointed out that there are certain materials, like beach sand and dirt, which can, under the proper conditions, harden quickly around an object giving it the superficial appearance of a fossil, but that these are not true examples of fossils. Having apparently learned not to make such claims, well known Creationist entrepreneur and head of the group Answers In Genesis (AIG) Ken Ham, instead of arguing it represented a modern artifact in ancient stone, said that the clock was an example of how it does not take very long to make a fossil. This allows him to claim that there are no real fossils of the age scientists claim, therefore evolution is false.