A Tale of Two Teeth

or, The Best of Teeth, the Worst of Teeth

Ronnie J. Hastings

Dr. Hastings teaches science at Waxahachie High School in Waxahachie Texas. He has worked and written extensively on the Paluxy controversy since 1982, and is a former board member of the National Center for Science Education.

This article originally appeared in _Creation/Evolution_, Summer, 1995, Issue 36, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 1-14. It was posted here on 5-10-97 with permission of Ronnie Hastings and NCSE. For more information on the Paluxy controversy, see Kuban's Paluxy web site.

On June 15, 1987, Carl Baugh, the leading proponent of widely debunked Texas "mantrack" claims, found a fossil tooth near some dinosaur tracks at his Paluxy River excavation site near Glen Rose, Texas, southwest of Fort Worth. He immediately proclaimed the tooth human and even named its former owner "Little David" ("Creation Evidences from the Paluxy" [CEP], 1987; Hastings 1987a, b; 1988), and some creationists continue to tout this "human" fossil today. It was found in the clay marl overlying the dinosaur track layer at what Baugh called the McFall Site II (CEP, 1987). Just as with the "mantrack" claims (many of which anteceded Baugh), this tooth was hailed as contributing to the death knell of evolutionary theory. It allegedly proved that dinosaurs and humans lived simultaneously in a world whose history is better explained by Genesis than modern science. Skeptics, however (including creationists who had been "burned" by Baugh's claims before), immediately suspected something was fishy about this new claim.

On June 19, 1987, the day the Supreme Court struck down the Louisiana Creation Law, I visited the excavation site. When Baugh himself arrived, however, he became angry at my presence but told me to expect a "surprise" he was about to announce to the press (Hastings, 1987a), although he did not tell me it was the tooth.

Early Announcements and Cautions

A week later, newspaper coverage trumpeted the find and noted the testimony of dentists confirming the tooth's human origin. It was supposedly from a juvenile male, although how its gender was ascertained was not explained. A trilobite was also said to be associated with the tooth. Newcomers to the controversy such as Don Patton hailed the claim, as did prominent creationists such as A.E. Wilder-Smith and Clifford Wilson (Somervell Sun, 1987).

In early July, Baugh and Patton took the tooth for identification (although they were already calling it the incisor of "Glen Rose Man, " Humanus Daviddii Glen Rose "Little David," with its own catalog ID, part of which was "FSCM," used hereafter). [Ed: Note the claim by anti-evolutionists to have found a completely new Genus, species and subspecies of human!] Paleontologist Arthur Busbey at Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, was consulted, and identified it as a fossil fish tooth similar to specimens he had on hand (DeVilbiss, 1988). Next, Baugh and Patton took their find to the Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory, Balcones Research Center, University of Texas at Austin. Professor Ernest Lundelius and graduate students Melissa Winans, Kyle Davies, and Sally Shelton identified it as an incisiform tooth from an extinct primitive bony fish called apycnodont (Carroll, 1988), perhaps ancestral to the gar or bowfin. However, Baugh and Patton apparently deny this identification ever took place (CEP, 1987).

Brought also to the Balcones lab was part of what the creationists had called during June television coverage an apparently associated "trilobite." This was but a row of pycnodont grinding or crushing teeth, specimens of which had already been found in lower Cretaceous deposits along the Paluxy (Thurmond, 1974). Such a row within a rock matrix can look a bit like the periphery of a trilobite to a naive observer. Apparently, Patton and DeVilbiss ( 1988) persuaded Baugh to back away from this trilobite identification after the Austin trip.

Things Become More Fishy

The tooth FSCM was called a "milk" or deciduous tooth supposedly because only its crown was present. It was 1.9 mm in width, 5.8 mm in average height, convex on the outer or labial side, and concave on the inner or lingual side (CEP, 1987) [Fig. 1]. A wear facet on the upper lingual face (toward the medial or mesial side) was claimed as uniquely human (or, at least, mammalian), but such facets occur in any opposing sets of cutting teeth, mammalian, reptilian, or piscine. Its missing base or pedicle prevented immediate identification as piscine or mammalian using gross morphological structure (Fever, 1968).

Never explained consistently were the separate claims that FSCM was "knocked out" and that it was deciduous. If FSCM was a tooth fractured at the base of the crown, how could it be claimed permanent or deciduous without microscopic observation? Even were it not fractured, a fossil tooth with only a crown does not mean it is deciduous, for roots of permanent teeth are very susceptible to erosion compared with crowns after burial (McLellan, 1988a, b).

July correspondence from Wann Langston Jr. ( 1987), also of the Balcones lab in Austin, indicated to me the pycnodont identification. Pycnodonts were primitive, bony-scaled fish that lived throughout the Mesozoic into the Tertiary. Complete North American skeletal remains are almost non-existent, but many complete skeletons from European Mesozoic deposits exist. Jack McLellan, an amateur paleoichthyologist, noted that many of the pycnodont incisiforms found in the Cretaceous of central Texas had features similar to FSCM (McLellan, 1987).

Undaunted by their Texas university visits, Baugh and Patton took FSCM to the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. in late July, learning that I was inquiring there about fossil fish teeth while on family vacation. There Raymond Rye and Robert Purdy told them the same thing they had told me-Langston had correctly suggested that many types of fish have human-like dentition, including the modem sheepshead "Archosargus probatacephalus" [Fig. 3]. An early German reference Purdy found (Guttonnsen, 1937) spoke of the great similarity of certain fossil fish teeth with human incisors, and the museum was easily able to show piscine fossils with incisor- like teeth.

Back in Texas Patton and I met in Dallas on August 11, 1987, confirming that we had received the same information from the National Museum. Patton evinced a strong belief that the lab in Austin and the museum in Washington D.C. had conspired to corroborate each other's analytical results, although they had not consulted with each other. According to Patton, the lab implied FSCM was human and that the museum had been misleading about its own fossils. Despite the lab's and the museum's independent emphases to Baugh and Patton that dentists were not usually authorities on comparative anatomy, Patton continued to show strong faith in dentists' identification of the tooth as human.

Patton kindly provided me additional photos of FSCM (publication of which was subsequently always denied me), confident in the humanity of FSCM. He seemed to me firmly unaware of Baugh's questionable reputation as an investigator with a bad string of claims (Cole and Godfrey, 1985; Godfrey and Cole, 1986; Hastings, 1986; 1988; Kuban, 1989; McIver, 1987; Schadewald, 1984a, b).

Three days later at the Austin lab I found that Baugh and Patton had misinterpreted scientists' remarks during their July visit. The many examples of fish, both modern and extinct, that possess "human- like" front rows of opposing incisiforms seemed to make no impression upon them; they interpreted "human-like" to mean literally "human!"

Baugh then published a series of black-and-white "Displays" as an addition to their previous newsletter (CEP, 1987). None of the information given them by the Austin lab and the National Museum indicating the tooth was probably piscine seemed to affect their still-strong conviction that FSCM was human. The "Displays," in fact, attempted to discredit the fish I.D.

Some Fossil Fish Teeth of My Own

In correspondence, Paluxy field colleagues Glen Kuban and John Armstrong questioned just how rare were fossil fish teeth like FSCM along the Paluxy. Beginning in mid-October at the Kerr Site, just across the river from the FSCM find, I found, with the assistance of Rick Neeley, several isolated small grinding teeth and tooth fragments imbedded in limestone cobbles as well as a few fossilized pycnodont scales. Among my October finds was only one incisiform tooth (IH1), which was sheared lengthwise after fossilization, leaving a height of 6 mm and a width of 5 mm. It was only similar to, not exactly like FSCM, having a pulp cavity definitely characteristic of fish teeth (Fever, 1968).

The presence of fish teeth in and near saurian track layers is consistent with what we know of that lower Cretaceous broad tidal flat environment (Langston and Pittman, 1987). Marine fish would have fed, probably at high tide, on hard shelled prey, losing teeth in the process.

Enter IH2

On Halloween, 1987, at site TSA, some few kilometers downstream from the FSCM site, I found FSCM's close facsimile, assisted by Rick Neeley and Jay Woods. A bit larger than FSCM, it was 1 cm in length, with a sloping height varying from 4 to 6 mm [Fig. 2]. FSCM has a vertical fracture line on its labial side, whereas IH2 is smooth [Figs. 1 and 2]. FSCM is apparently an upper right or lower left incisiform while IH2 probably is an upper left or lower right. FSCM has a smoothly worn wear facet, and IH2 wear pattern looks like a pock mark on its inner side.

Figure. 1. Fossilized FSCM incisiform
tooth, labial or lip side. Drawn by Glen Kuban
from a photograph by Don Patton.
Figure.2. Fossilized IH2 incisiform tooth,
labial or lip side. Photo by Stanley D. Parker
Their similarities overwhelm their differences. The two teeth are not only similar in overall dimensions, they have the same fracture pattern at the base. Both are amber to dark brown in color and translucent to strong light. Their pulp cavities have similar shapes, and the degree of concavity appears near the same. There is no compelling disparity between the two to justify considering them to be from different kinds of organisms. A year later I would find several more similar fish teeth in the area.


As long as Baugh and Patton continued to insist upon the humanity of FSCM despite evidence to the contrary, further analysis was now warranted upon both teeth. Microscopic analysis using a scanning electron microscope (SEM) can clearly distinguish between human and fish teeth even if only the crowns are left. Most fish teeth are made of dentin, while human or mammalian teeth are of enamel, each type a certain arrangement of orthophosphate hydroxyapatite (McLellan, 1988b). A photographic result of a SEM scan, or micrograph, will reveal a different pattern for teeth from different animals; there is also a small range of variation in human teeth micrographs, depending on the particular area scanned, the nature of the agent used to etch the tooth surface in preparation for scanning, and the condition and kind (deciduous or adult) of tooth (ten Cate, 1985). Fossil teeth result from partial or complete geochemical replacement of the original tooth material, but the microstructure of the dentin or enamel is faithfully retained (Banner, 1985). Hence, a fossil tooth or a modern tooth of the same type of organism should scan similarly and show similar micrograph patterns.

Before IH2 was found, Baugh had FSCM scanned by David Menton of the Department of Anatomy, School of Medicine, Washington University, St. Louis, MO. In Menton's words, SEM observations on FSCM "seem to exclude the possibility that FSCM is human." No characteristic enamel "prism" patterns of human dentition were found on both FSCM areas scanned (Menton, 1987). Its pattern, however, matched well that of a scanned sheepshead fish tooth, leading Menton to suggest FSCM was a tooth from a pycnodont-like fish similar to sargodon (Guttormsen, 1937).

Menton's analysis is particularly significant in that he is a young-earth creationist, an ICR board member, and a leading creationist in Missouri. In his report (p. 4) Menton shows human deciduous teeth are rarely found as fossils, and that if FSCM was indeed a fish tooth, then similar specimens would be found. Since this was before IH2 turned up, Menton was prophetic.

Despite Menton's micrographs, Baugh and Patton attempted to salvage the human identification of FSCM, citing that FSCM's micrographs looked similar to an aberrant human pattern within the spectrum of human dentition scans. According to Ranse Traxler, Missouri Committee of Correspondence liaison, Menton "was not pleased" that his analysis did not alter Baugh's and Patton's position. Patton (personal communication) claimed Menton later shifted from being so definite to only "highly probable" that FSCM was not human.

Photos of Menton's micrographs of FSCM did not show any obvious similarity to the aberrant human pattern; FSCM's scan showed a somewhat fibrous, robust, intertwined branching pattern [Fig. 4], while the aberrant human pattern (ten Cate, p. 214) showed clear remnants of badly eroded enamel prism boundaries.

Figure. 3 Modern saltwater sheepshead
fish head showing opposing rows of incisiform
teeth. Photograph by Glen J. Kuban.

Baugh and Patton seemed to be arguing that macroscopic features of incisors or incisiforms have little variation, while microscopic features have greater variation. But this is to argue counter to general patterns found in the anatomy of teeth of all types. Variation in macroscopic features is normally more pronounced (Wheeler, 1974) than that of microscopic features such as human incisor SEM scans (ten Cate, 1985). That macroscopic anatomical features of human and fish dentition can display a great deal of similarity is not surprising, whereas the different molecular structures of the two types of teeth would predict very different SEM micrographs taken at analogous sites on the two types.

Clearly I had to have IH2 scanned. Kuban and I planned a series of scans which could be used for direct comparison. With the help of Wann Langston, Jr. I arranged for scans at the Austin lab. I sent IH2, a large pycnodont grinding tooth, and a modern human incisor donated by Stanley Parker, D.D.S. Kuban submitted two modem fish incisiforms from a Florida sheepshead "Archosargus probatacephalus" and a modern woodchuck tooth.

The December 1987 Seminar

In late December my son Don and I attended the Creation-Excavation Seminar held at Glen Rose. Not a lot of seminar time was spent talking about FSCM, perhaps because upon my arrival Baugh and Patton had approached me about the "new tooth" they had heard I had. After explaining that it was still at the lab for scanning, I showed them my photos and casts. Patton more than Baugh commented on similarities. Very little was said about differences. I urged Patton to inform the seminar about Menton's SEM results on FSCM, which was never done. Later, I learned that Baugh and Patton planned to argue that IH2 was a fish tooth, but that FSCM was still human. Their noose was tightening.

On the afternoon of the first day's excavation I gave one of my many sets of photos of IH2 to Paul Goaz, Professor at Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas. Goaz was very surprised to see opposing incisiforms with cervical features on the crown bases in the head of modern sheepshead which Kuban had shipped to me just before the seminar (the same fish head from which Kuban had pulled two incisiforms to be scanned at the lab in Austin). Goaz found the wear facets and cervical features of the IH2 casts and photos equally surprising, as he had thought all these features exclusive to mammalian teeth. Goaz' whole perspective on FSCM seemed to shift, thanks to IH2 photos and a smelly fish head from Florida [Fig. 3], and in the following month a letter from him confirmed this.

The 1988 Interim

It was not until April 1988 that a report on Menton's analysis of FSCM appeared in the creationist press "Bible-Science Newsletter," 1988). The results of the analysis came across only with careful reading. Though knowing of IH2 through the December seminar, IH2 was not mentioned, as if FSCM was still an isolated find: "Menton has commented that if the tooth is indeed the tooth of a pycnodont, it is likely that additional examples will be found at the Paluxy. This will greatly aid in testing, and increase the likelihood that the tooth belonged to the pycnodont. On the other hand, if the tooth is human, it may be unlikely that another sample will be found."

In late July, 1988, the results of a conclusive "new analysis" on FSCM finally came and were announced by Patton at the monthly MIOS meeting. They were anything but conclusive. According to Patton FSCM was sent to the Immunology Department, California State University at San Francisco, for a collagen protein test in which scrapings from FSCM's pulp cavity were analyzed for fossil protein. Though any results were apparently compromised by moisture contamination, this did not deter Patton from declaring the test showed no indication for fish and too little for human protein. I declared my immediate interest in having IH2 similarly tested, but Patton said relations with the California lab had been severed, and that it was expensive anyway.

By late August my collection of fossil fish teeth consisted of 5 pycnodontlike incisiforms, 163 pycnodont-like grinding teeth or tooth fragments, 15 fossilized fish scales, and 6 spike or reptile- like teeth. I had also seen a fossilized pycnodont jaw with rows of grinders but no incisiforms found by someone else. This tally did not include the many fossilized fish teeth and fragments found by creationists at the FSCM site and acknowledged as piscine.

An example of such a creationist tooth finder was Art Chadwick, a creationist instructor at Southwestern Adventist College, Keene, Texas, near Glen Rose. Chadwick's fossilized fish tooth collection apparently resembled mine, complete with an incisiform resembling FSCM and IH2 found near the FSCM site (Chadwick, 1988). Over the phone Chadwick made it clear that as much as he would like to, he could not see any likelihood that any of his finds could be human.

Long-Awaited Results

By September Patton was speaking to me again. In fact, he seemed in a hurry to scan both FSCM again along with my IH2. He wanted me to get IH2 back, almost as if he was curious to see whether I had such a tooth, so long was the delay at the Austin lab. I asked for but was refused permission to publish photos of FSCM.

It wasn't until early December, 1988, that my tooth set was finally returned from the Austin lab scanned. Equipment breakdowns and subsequent backlogs accounted for the delay. Performed by Rick Toomey of the lab, the scans produced micrographs which corroborated both Menton's FSCM results and macroscopic comparisons of FSCM and IH2.

Figure. 4. SEM scan of incisiform FSCM near
its incisal surface, 1250x magnification. (Drawn
by R. Hastings from photo of micrograph by
David N. Menton.
Figure. 5. SEM scan of incisiform IH2 near its
wear surface; 1250X magnification. (Micrograph
by Rick Toomey.

IH2 and the sheepshead tooth scanned virtually the same, showing the fibrous, branching, nonuniform pattern typical of fish dentition [Fig. 5]. And this pattern matched that of FSCM [Compare Figs. 4 and 5]. On the other hand, the modern human incisor showed the expected mosaic of enamel prism patterns [Fig. 6] with similar mosaics appearing in scans of the woodchuck tooth Kuban had sent and of a raccoon incisor the lab had contributed. My offer to Menton to share copies of these results was never answered or acknowledged.

Figure. 6 SEM scan of a modern human incisor
enamel on the crown near its wear surface; 1300X
magnfication. (Micrograph by Rick Toomey).

When he learned that I had IH2 back in my possession along with micrographs of the tooth set, Patton ceased to be so anxious to re- scan FSCM and IH2. At the January, 1989, MIOS meeting I was finally introduced to Dr. James McIntosh of the Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas, who Patton had said would do scanning for us. McIntosh was very quiet as I showed him my collection of teeth and micrographs. He agreed that the whole set could be re-scanned for further corroboration.

Surprise Announcement

Although I had thought Patton and I had agreed to scan our specimens together, I learned before the February MIOS meeting that FSCM had already been re-scanned. I made an appointment with McIntosh to have at least IH2 re-scanned. During the February meeting Patton's talk was curious. His subject was that similarity does not always mean genetic relationship--a major point against FSCM being human. This was but to soften the blow for the major presentation both Baugh and Patton took the stage to announce that they now thought FSCM was not human, but was from some kind of fish!

Apparently their last hopes were dashed by McIntosh's analysis of FSCM. Convinced that Menton's scans of FSCM did not go sufficiently below the surface, he sectioned FSCM vertically for an internal scan. Only a low-magnification micrograph of the cross section was shown to the audience, showing the crown much too thick to be deciduous. The internal scan reportedly gave a clear piscine pattern with no semblance of human enamel prisms, though we were not shown it [Fig. 4]. It was all over; not even Baugh or Patton could avoid throwing in the towel.

Smoke Screens and Whistling in the Dark

The rest of the evening was spent by Baugh, Patton, and the MIOS President in damage control. They emphasized that here is proof that creationists can indeed come to scientific conclusions following the evidence. To the extent that they allowed the evidence in the end to paint them into a corner, they did behave scientifically, and for this Baugh and Patton should be commended.

But why did it take so long for them to come to the same conclusions as their scientific critics from the very beginning? Patton very candidly admitted they were motivated throughout to embarrass scientists whom he and Baugh believed "lied" to them. They emphasized how scientific they had remained throughout the almost year and a half since FSCM had been discovered, always maintaining tentative conclusions until "all the evidence was in." But there is nothing tentative in such published statements as "and our tooth remains uniquely identical exclusively to the human tooth" and "Our fossil remains uniquely human" (CEP, 1987). No more tentative are "... suspended 5.8 inches in the clay was a human tooth!" and "The Creation Evidences Museum of Glen Rose, Texas has announced the discovery of a 7.9 mm wide human incisor tooth thirty inches from a dinosaur print" (Baugh, 1987, pp. 144, 147, respectively). Clearly FSCM's finders were convinced from the outset that FSCM was human.

Finishing Detail

As the expert testimony of dentists helped fuel misidentification of FSCM, so also did it help finally close the case on FSCM. McIntosh scanned IH2 at Baylor College of Dentistry for me as planned in March, 1989, scratching well below its surface for an internal scan. As with FSCM, he found no evidence of the prism patterns associated with human teeth in IH2. Its re-scan showed the piscine pattern once more, though McIntosh said he thought the pattern was a different fish pattern than FSCM's fish pattern [Compare Figs. 4 and 5]. If they are different, the two teeth perhaps came from two different kinds of Cretaceous fish sporting incisiforms.

Summary and Closing

The irony of this "tooth tale" is that the creationists involved have committed the same error they and other creationists have inaccurately attributed to evolutionary scientists--creating an entire human fossil from a single tooth! A few scientists in the 192O's much too hastily described a pig's molar as belonging to an ancient North American "Nebraska Man" (Wolf and Mellett, 1985; Gould, 1989). Oddly, during his damage control on the evening of February 28, 1989, Baugh conjured up the deadly comparison, quoting the myth that "Nebraska Man was used as evidence at the Scopes trial!" (Perhaps it might have been, but Judge Raulston did not even allow experts to testify about evidence.) And Patton argued the same misinformation months later. It seems to me the actions of Baugh and Patton have effectively removed from the creationists' arsenal a useful story, apocryphal though it was.

Of course had Baugh and Patton pursued corroborative evidence as good science demands, they would have found piscine fossils as I did. After they showed little or no inclination to search for more finds, I seized the opportunity to find additional evidence. This pursuit not only led to finding IH2, but also corroborated the initial assessment by Langston and other scientists at his lab, by Art Busbey, and by the National Museum in the summer of 1987 right after FSCM was found. By the end of summer, 1987, for most scientists the matter would have been settled. By the end of 1987 for even a lot of creationists the matter would have been settled. But not for mantrack and "mantooth" enthusiasts; the matter had to be played out to the bitter end, consuming energy, money and time.

Although as late as 1994-1995 Baugh sometimes recycles long- defunct tooth tales, they are belied by the events of 1987-1989, when it became clear that a fish tooth by any other name remains the same. To use a friend's phrase, in the end Baugh and Patton got "the tooth, the whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth."


I am indebted to Wann Langston, Jr., Ernest Lundelius, and their research staff at the Vertebrate Paleontology Lab, University of Texas at Austin, and to Raymond Rye and Robert Purdy of the National Museum. Jack McLellan provided invaluable, fresh-from-the-field information on fossil fish teeth, and Bill Bennetta and John Cole were outstanding among many providing suggestions improving this manuscript. I must thank my fellow seekers of fossil fish teeth along the Paluxy, including Rick Neeley, Jay Woods, and my son Don. Not only did Glen Kuban help find teeth, he procured sheepshead specimens and furnished a variety of photos. For the photographic contributions of Scott Dorsett and Stanley Parker I am deeply grateful; likewise for the artistic talents of John Armstrong and Sean Cagle. Finally, I thank Rick Toomey and Jim McIntosh for the vital role their SEM micrographs played.


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______. 1987b. Creationists' Tooth Claims Evolve Into a New "Fish Story," C/E Newsletter, 7(5): 18-20.

______. 1986. Tracking Those Incredible Creationists--The Trail Continues, Creation/Evolution, XVII, 6(1): 19-27.

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______. 1988b. Letter to Ronnie Hastings, Mar. 23.

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