Dino do-overs: Fixes to paleontology

Well, here we have a compilation of several errors that paleontologists have made based on their guesses and, if I may be so bold, their adherence to the assumptions of millions of years and evolution. Naturally, as we take a closer look at things, we are bound to advance our knowledge in some way. However, if we are not looking at things the way God tells us, then we will come to incorrect conclusions. This is the same in our everyday lives interacting with others as it is with scientists. If we look to God’s Word as the absolute truth, then we will make better decisions and come up with better answers. Enjoy these “Oops, I think we messed up” moments and keep on looking out for further changes in man’s interpretation of the “facts,” keeping in mind that God is truth and He knows all things. Man still has a long, long way to go. Assumptions in red and my comments in blue – as usual.

Dino do-overs: Fixes to paleontology

By Talal Al-Khatib

Published August 14, 2013

Discovery News

Just when you thought dinosaurs couldn’t get any more extinct, two species have been erased from existence.

Three for one
According to a new analysis of dinosaur fossils by University of Pennsylvania researchers, specimensonce thought part of three distinct species of the genus Psittacosaurus all derive from a single species. The case of mistaken identity arose not from the anatomical variety among different animals, but rather the differences in how the fossil remains of each were buried and compressed.

Given that 65 million years separate modern humans from the last dinosaurs, it shouldn’t be too surprising that paleontologists might get their facts wrong on some of these animals, only to be corrected by further study and fresh analysis. (And perhaps corrected further by yet more studies. Of course, the consensus among most scientists is that the dinosaurs lived until about 65 million years ago, but this guess is based on a series of guesses and circular arguments as well as radiometric dating, a technique fraught with assumptions. And look out – as more of these “species” disappear, Noah’s ark will be even more able to accommodate all animal life in pairs.)

Young and old
When science can’t save a dinosaur species, you’d hope a little magic might be able to come to the rescue. Well, it can’t.

In a story similar to the three species of Psittacosaurus consolidated into one, in 2009 two species of dome-headed dinosaur, one of which was named Dracorex hogwartsia after Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series, were wiped out of existence. What was once thought to be distinct animals were in fact juvenile and nearly sexually mature specimens from the same species.

One of the study’s authors, renowned paleontologist John “Jack” Horner, suggested that as many as a third of named dinosaur species could be cleared from the record books as they might simply be juvenile versions of another identified dinosaur. (Pretty soon, man will discover, perhaps, that there were only 100 or so different kinds of dinos. Creation scientists figure the number of animals on Noah’s ark was about 20,000 when the ark could have held up to 50,000 animal kinds. Keep in mind, a kind can reproduce with others of its kind. For example, a poodle can breed with a dachshund to make a curly-haired wiener dog. Similarly, there are several similar looking dinos which could have interbred much like dogs. This would mean the number of dinos Noah would have needed on the ark would be considerably less than the number of dino species guessed at by scientists.)

Hot or cold?
Given that dinosaurs have been gone for millions of years, no paleontologist has ever managed to take a dinosaur’s temperature. As a result, researchers have had to surmise whether dinosaurs were warm- or cold-blooded based on fossil evidence.

Most dinosaurs were once believed to be slow-moving, cold-blooded creatures similar to today’s reptiles. However, recently published research suggests that dinosaurs may have been warm-blooded.

A study in 2012 showed that growth lines on fossilized dinosaurs bones, once touted as evidence of dinos’ cold-bloodedness, indicates the opposite. As LiveScience’s Jennifer Welsh explained: “During slow-growing times like during the winter, they are darker and narrower, while in fast-growing times the bones have lighter, wider bands.” Constant growth would indicate a warm-blooded animal, while varied growth, which appears in dinosaur bones, would suggest a cold-blooded creature.

The study’s authors demonstrated, however, that even mammals can display interrupted bone growth depending on environmental conditions, such seasonal rainfall and temperature cycles, and physical considerations, such as animal’s core body temperature and resting metabolic rate. (This basically means that scientists cannot determine exactly what caused the bands to form as dino bones grew. It is pure speculation.)

Bye bye, Brontosaurus
(I know there are no pictures, so you will have to imagine them.) If this statue of a Brontosaurus looks as though the dinosaur has a bit of an attitude, it’s because the Brontosaurus never in fact existed — a fact that seems to give the Tyrannosaurus rex in the background the giggles.

The Brontosaurus is rather the result of an intense competition between bitter 19th-century rivalry between paleontologists Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope that would become known as the Bone Wars, according to NPR. Marsh had discovered the partial skeleton of a giant, long-necked dinosaur he called the Apatosaurus, affixing the skull of another dinosaur, believed to be a Camarasaurus, to complete the find. Two years later, a second, more complete Apatosaurus skeleton was found, which Marsh called the Brontosaurus.

The mistake was detected in 1903, but the Brontosaurus endured in both museum collections and dinosaur books and film. Two Cargenie researchers in the 1970s put the final nail in the coffin of the Brontosaurus when they determined that a skull belonging to the original 1877 skeleton had been found in a quarry in Utah in 1910. (And I always wanted to eat a brontosaurus burger like Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. This is what happens when man’s ego gets in the way. Two competitors were fighting out for bragging rights for this discovery. The same thing happens today, but with money. In the US, government agencies are doling out money to scientists who advance the notion of evolution…)

Guilty until proven innocent
If the Oviraptor had lived in a more litigious period than the late Cretaceous Era, it might have sued the scientist who discovered it for slander.

In 1923, the first Oviraptor skeleton was unearthed by Roy Chapman Andrews and later described by paleontologist Henry Osborn. Because the Oviraptor’s remains were found near a clutch of what were believed to be Protoceratops eggs, it earned its monicker, which translates to “egg thief” in Latin.

What scientists later discovered with in the 1990s with new fossil evidence was that the original Oviraptor find was in fact guarding its own eggs. (If you were sensing impending danger on its way, wouldn’t you want to protect your young? Is that a wall of water coming at us?)

The Case of the Stupid Stegosaurus
Long before researchers learned more about dinosaur social structure and behavior patterns, dinosaurswere thought to be pretty dumb animals, due to the size of the brains of some specimens relative to their bodies. No dinosaur’s intelligence was quite so maligned as the humble but familiar stegosaurus.

When scientists first unearthed this dinosaur, stegosaurus was thought to have a second brain in its behind due to the small size of the one in its skull. In other words, paleontologists went on record stating they believed stegosaurus to be a prehistoric butthead — the technical term for the condition anyway.

No, the stegosaurus didn’t have a butt brain. No dinosaur has ever been found to have a second brain for that matter.

Dino descendents
Even before there was any evidence of feathers in dinosaurs, paleontologists and biologists had for 150 years suspected that birds were the descendants of dinosaurs.

The discovery of Archaeopteryx in 1861, just two years after Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, was the first species to create a link between modern birds and their prehistoric ancestors. The late evidence of feathers, anatomical similarities between some dinosaur fossils and modern birds and behavioral patterns bolster the hundreds of millions of years old connection between the two animal groups. (Opinions about archaeopteryx seem to change every couple of years – is it a bird or a dino? New findings in China suggest that birds may have actually pre-dated dinos. Keep guessing, boys.)

Dinosaurs of a feather
Classic depictions of dinosaurs typically feature scaly, often green but occasionally brown animals that looks almost like giant lizards. Fossilized feathers, however, are painting an entirely different picture of what these prehistoric creatures looked like.

Recent research has suggested that most if not all dinosaurs sported feathers. Originally found in the theropod Sinosauropteryx in 1996, more than 30 different feathered dinosaurs had been identified since.(The next thing you know, scientists will find soft tissues in these dino fossils…wait a minute!)

Where’d they all go?
One of the most enduring mysteries among dinosaur enthusiasts was how this large, diverse group of animals that once dominated the planet went extinct. Theories ranged from volcano eruptions to death by caterpillar to a giant asteroid impact that triggered a mass extinction. The last one is the most widely agreed upon cause of the dinos’ disappearance. (Personally, I go with death by caterpillar. Yuck!)

Earlier this year, a group of 41 geologists, paleontologists and other researchers affirmed the theory, first posited in 1980, that an asteroid impact, later found at Chicxulub, Mexico, wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. (This theory could stand the test of time, not because any scientist will ever know for certain that this happened, but they need to explain the sudden disappearance of so many life forms in such a short period of time. An asteroid impact does this quite well, but not quite as well as a global flood.)