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Fake Kentucky "Dinosaur Tracks"
We recently had some fake "dinosaur" tracks show up in Pennsylvanian age
rocks (!) here in Kentucky. They are fairly blatant fakes, but may be sold
at gem and mineral shows all over the place. The owner of several of the
"tracks" may have gotten a dealer to take some for sale on consignment at a
recent Cincinnati Gem and Mineral Show.
If you encounter any dinosaur tracks supposedly from Kentucky, please
Please post the following warning to as many rockhound/fossil collector
lists as you possible.
President, Kentucky Paleontological Society
FAKE FOSSIL WARNING
The April 14 Lexington (Kentucky) Herald-Leader (page B-3) has an excellent
article on some "fossil tracks" that were recently brought to the Kentucky
Geological Survey for identification. In the article Dr. Don Chesnut
correctly identifies the "tracks" as man-made carvings. I examined these
"tracks" in early February and explained to the owner that they were
carvings, not actual tracks. These "tracks" were "discovered" in Clay
County, Kentucky in Pennsylvanian sediments. They have none of the features
one would expect in a genuine trace fossil. The tracks are not genuine for
the following reasons:
(1) The "tracks" are extremely flat-bottomed, unlike genuine tracks that
would be rounded, and irregular, reflecting the shape of the track maker?s
(2) There is no "mounding" or squish marks as one would expect from the
foot of an animal displacing soft mud as it walked. Most of the "tracks"
are only a few millimeters deep; rather remarkable for a large creature
walking in soft mud.
(3) The edges of genuine tracks would display curved layering from the
pressure of the foot The edges of these "tracks" form right angles as if
cut or carved. Sometimes this right angle was obscured by sanding (see point
(4) There are no underprints on the bottom of the bedding plane as is
common in genuine fossil tracks. (For example, genuine fossil bird tracks
from localities such as the Green River Shale show underprints. These bird
tracks come from an animal considerably smaller and lighter than the
supposed maker of these "tracks").
(5) The "toes" are not dug into the mud deeper than the "heels" as would
be expected if the "tracks" were made by a forward-moving animal.
(6) There are no examples of "positive" tracks that would form when mud
filled in a trackway. These positives are known as "hyporeliefs" to
ichnologists (scientists who study trace fossils).
(7) There is a considerable color difference on some specimens between the
bedding plane and the "track". This color difference is probably caused by
the carving exposing fresh rock.
(8) Many of the specimens seemed to be purposely "aged" and obscured by
not cleaning off all of the mud present and by sanding or sand-papering the
specimens. Possibly this was done to obscure tool marks or to round the
edges of the carving.
(9) Although all are from the same secret locality, some are on shale,
some on siltstone, and others on sandstone. Interestingly, one specimen was
on a piece of ripple-marked sandstone. It is odd that one locality would
produce tracks from such a variety of lithologies while similar tracks are
(10) Perhaps most basic of all though is the fact that the "tracks" bear
only a superficial resemblance to the anatomy of any animal living or
extinct; they look stylized or cartoon-like. In short, these are not even
particularly good fakes.
It is unlikely that these are Indian petroglyphs since many of the
specimens are in soft shale, which would have weathered if exposed for any
length of time. Moreover, Indians were unaware of the existence of
dinosaurs. There are now more than 10 "specimens". It is unusual that the
Indians would only carve one thing again and again.
Surprisingly, only a few days after the newspaper article appeared, these
tracks were on display at a Lexington gem and mineral show. There were no
labels on the specimens, but there was a toy dinosaur sitting on one of them
-- implying that some prehistoric creature had made the tracks.
I probably would have let this matter drop considering it only as an
example of human credulity if not for the fact that I suspected that these
"tracks" were being sold to local collectors. My suspicions were confirmed
when a friend visited a gem and mineral store in Lexington. She noticed the
"tracks" and was told it was a mystery as to what they were -- they COULD be
dinosaur or some other animal or they COULD be carvings. She was told that
scientists at the university were not clear as to their origin and the
scientists wanted to know where they came from, possibly so they could have
them all to themselves (!). The price was not marked, but she was told "a
couple hundred" dollars.
The person who has most of these tracks comes off as sincere; he runs a
small museum in Danville, Kentucky. Someone has stated that he has paid as
much as $180 for one of the tracks. I do not think he personally carved the
tracks; but rather is the victim of a cruel hoax. Unfortunately, the person
will not acknowledge that he has been conned and continues to search for
someone to authenticate the tracks. Sadly, until someone comes forward and
admits to having been cheated, there is nothing that can be done except to
-- Dan Phelps, President, Kentucky Paleontological Society,
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