Cenomanian Last Stand

Not all that far from the Institute’s HQ in Dallas, Texas, is the recently discovered Arlington Archosaur Site (AAS). In February a paper was published in Palaios called Feeding traces and paleobiology of a Cretaceous (Cenomanian) Crocodyliform: Example from the Woodbine formation of Texas. Now, Brian Thomas claims Chewed Dinosaur Bones Fit Flood. We’ll see if they do.

During the Cenomanian the sea level would have been slightly less than this, with the Dallas area being on the coast

I took a slightly different approach to this article, emailing Mr Thomas with some queries on it not long after it was published. As I suspected, he hasn’t responded. But I also contacted the corresponding author of the paper, Dr Christopher Noto, alerting him that his work had been used. He did respond, and while he said he was too busy to go over the article himself he gave me the full text of the Noto et al. paper. Having now read that I think I can safely say that the bones do not “fit” the flood.

Let me show you why. Brian begins:

A new cache of fossils found in Arlington, Texas, contains plenty of clues that are best explained by Noah’s Flood.

This actually makes Brian’s title rather odd – rather than the usual hyperbole it turns out to be less ambitious than the article. And if you’re wondering, I’m trialling putting the letters ‘ICR’ in the background of quotes from them, as there will be so many quotes in this article you may get confused. Tell me if it leaves things unreadable.

More specifically, the circumstances surrounding these remains match a hypothesis proposed by creation scientist Michael Oard that describes how swamp plants and land creatures could have mixed with sea creatures several months into the year-long Flood.

Oard’s original technical paper is discussed over at the OEC Answers in Creation website in this article by Greg Neyman. His model is one of those odd ones that involve tsunami-like waves passing over the continents in a desperate attempt to explain the intricacies of the fossil record.

According to Scripture, five months passed after the Flood began before its waters had completely covered the earth (Genesis 7:24).

Er, no. This is another scriptural blunder by Brian, and unlike the ‘signature’ from a few days ago he’s not even backed up by the New Defenders Study Bible annotation to which he links. In the KJV, which the ICR uses there, Gen. 7:24 reads:

And the waters prevailed upon the earth an hundred and fifty days.

Where, of course, 150 days is approximately 5 months. Other, more modern translations confirm that ‘prevailed’ is referring to how long the water was there, not how long it took to build up. Further, Gen. 8:3 reads in the KJV:

And the waters returned from off the earth continually: and after the end of the hundred and fifty days the waters were abated.

Which makes it fairly evident that Brian has the whole thing backwards.

By then, all air-breathing, land-dwelling creatures not on board the Ark were dead or dying. According to Oard, the interiors of continents may have been the last land areas to be submerged after being repeatedly washed by successive wave-like surges. Water and land levels fluctuated, and desperate, starving creatures made their last stands on temporary barren mud flats.

You will remember that what he is trying to explain is, when it comes down to it, a collection of fossil bones with tooth marks on them. This is a rather round about way of doing it, and Brian never does actually address the scores and pits on the bones. And you’ll note from the map above that Texas is actually nowhere near the interior of the continent, which makes you wonder why he’s even bringing this up. And nor was the fossil site a “barren mud flat” – to quote from the paper:

Plant remains are abundant, including coalified plant parts 10–40 cm long, most likely the remains of large branches. Some faint rhizoliths are also visible.

Rhizoliths are precipitation buildups around roots. They are unlikely to have been a feature of “temporary barren mud flats.”

Oard first described his hypothesis in 1997: “It is more reasonable that dinosaurs found a linear strip of land (or a series of shoals separated by shallow water) during the Flood while the sea level was oscillating and sediments were being deposited.” He gave an updated description in his 2011 book Dinosaur Challenges and Mysteries, where he wrote, “Patches of newly laid sediments briefly emerged from the water during the Flood due to a local fall in relative sea level.”

I can’t find a review of that book, and I don’t have a copy, so we’ll be trusting Brian to have faithfully described his “updated” model.

University of Texas at Arlington adjunct instructor Derek Main co-authored a description of the Arlington fossil site in the journal Palaois that provides clues that seem to fit Oard’s hypothesis. First, the creatures were deposited by sediment-carrying flood waters that travelled long distances.

No. No they weren’t.

The paper mentions two categories of fossils. Microfossils, “including Hybodus, Lepisosteus, Onchopristis, Cretodus, an amphibian, pycnodonts, semionotids, three different chelonian shell morphotypes, and a new species of lungfish,” are mentioned to “[a]ll represent mainly aquatic or semi-aquatic taxa known to have freshwater, brackish, or marine distributions.” It is these that may have been washed a way, and also “indicate the close proximity of the AAS to the paleocoastline.”

However, the paper is more interested in what they call ‘macrofossils’ – the dinosaurs and turtles and Crocodyliforms (which Noto mentioned in his email as “not even closely related to living crocs, it’s from a completely extinct lineage. Not that that matters to them, but it’s worth saying.”) – which did not get deposited in the way Brian suggests. To quote:

The taphonomy of the lowermost carbonaceous layer indicates it is an attritional assemblage formed in a low-energy environment. […] The macrofossils appear to corroborate this interpretation: the lack of surface modification (i.e., abrasion), size disparity between sediment particles and bones, and relatively random orientation of bones suggests they underwent little, if any, aqueous transport.

It should be fairly clear from that that this was no Global Flood. Back to Thomas:

The Arlington remains include bones of dinosaur, turtle, and now-extinct crocodile forms. They also include many fish, including shark fossils. The Palaois authors noted that since all these did not normally live in the same place, they must have been washed in from far away.

Where did they say that? The fish, yes, but as for the dinosaurs and turtles:

The extremely disassociated nature of the macrovertebrate assemblage is likely a combination of decay and disarticulation at the surface prior to burial and or the shrink-swell cycles and bioturbation of the sediment following burial. As such, the macrovertebrate remains at the AAS are most likely parautochthonous, and are representative of dominant taxa from the surrounding area.

He continues:

Second, at the time when these fossils were formed, “more than half of Texas was under water,” according to the UT Arlington Magazine. It would all have been under water, and at times only half submerged, during the Flood year.

The magazine article is here. It’s more important as information on the discovery and activity of the site, than for the quote he takes from it. Though we know about the sea level, I should think, through evidence that would have to be thrown out if the Flood were true – thus, quoting that soundbite to support his story is disingenuous.

Also, the rapid fossilization of the assembled creatures fits a catastrophic flood capable of combining and burying land, swamp, and sea animals. The Palaois study authors wrote, “Most bones were likely buried within a few years of deposition as indicated by the minimal amounts of weathering and breakage.”

Because that’s totally ‘rapid.’ And note that the study is actually talking about how long the bones accumulated on the surface before they were buried, and not how long the fossilisation process took.

Some dinosaur bones exhibited “tooth marks consistent with predation” by a large crocodile-like animal.

That quote is what the whole paper was about, yet that’s all Brian says of it.

Supposedly, “estimating the time of formation for a fossil assemblage is difficult.”

Before I had access to the full text of the paper, I had thought that line had actually referred to how many million years ago the bones had been fossilised, but apparently not. However, Brian is still taking this to mean fossilisation time, and not, again, how long they piled up on the surface for.

But because “all bones are well-preserved and lacked any pitting or etching that would indicate they had passed through a crocodile’s digestive system,” it is certain that very little time elapsed between when the crocodiles began eating and when all of the remains commenced fossilization.

Err… what? They were talking there about feeding habits of Crocodyliforms (e.g. alligators and crocadiles) and comparing them with this extinct variety. They gave two photographs – which can be found here and here – of alligators eating turtles as examples, adding:

This pattern of feeding takes advantage of potential weak points in the turtle shell where bone is thinnest, targeting the hinges laterally and the midsagittal axis of the shell. Such behavior potentially obliterates the central portions of the shell while leaving thicker marginal portions relatively intact.

In other words, the turtle shell parts that were found were never actually swallowed by the animal, and they mention also that “Crocodylians are notorious for their strong stomach acids, which can completely dissolve bone.” But nowhere in there is there justification for Brian’s statement that “it is certain that very little time elapsed between when the crocodiles began eating and when all of the remains commenced fossilization.”

Bones usually rot within months on dry land, even without oxygen. And they decay even faster in watery environments like those of the ancient Arlington creatures.

They do? I’m not so sure. When a body is exhumed many years after it was buried the bones tend to still be intact. On land bones can last quite a while, even if not buried. And the paper even suggests that a “moist environment” may mean that the bones could have survived longer, with weathering being their primary limiting consideration, not rotting. Soft tissues may rot fairly quickly, and I suspect that that is what Brian means, but we are not talking about soft tissue here. As such, I think we have rendered the premise underlying the following false:

Because “the time of formation” was obviously very short, it is difficult to reconcile with evolution’s vast ages.

So no, there doesn’t seem to be a problem here.

“The data as a whole indicates a coastal, possibly seasonal, marsh that was periodically influenced by marine incursions [sea flooding onto continents],” according to the study authors.

Thomas seems to be implying that marine incursions are basically tsunamis, but I’m not so sure. I would suspect – but don’t know for sure – that they are more like salt water intruding into the marsh lands, with perhaps a little spring tide-like raise in water level. Whatever they are, I doubt that “sea flooding onto continents” is the correct explanation.

They assumed the remains represent scenes from everyday life, but the data do not support that story. For example, the assemblage includes charred remains of large branches. If this represents a normal daily scene, then why were the branches ripped off of trees and the animal bones torn apart? The clues indicate catastrophic, not seasonal, processes.

Branches on the ground, both burnt and otherwise, does not a catastrophe make. As for the broken bones:

Many bones are complete or nearly complete. Incomplete bones are often separated at growth plates, or, if broken, exhibit transverse fracturing associated with breakage after fossilization.

Again, not catastrophic. And that seems to be the best Brian can do to prove that they are.

Floods form fossils fast. And it makes sense that a catastrophic worldwide flood, like the one recorded in Genesis, would have deposited these fossils quickly.

Do they? They may well bury bones quickly, but Brian has not managed to show that the bones were buried “rapidly.” And I would go so far as to say that such a flood could not have produced the fossils, for the various reasons given above, including the low-energy deposition and the rhizoliths.

Addendum – Noto’s own comments

This morning I found in my inbox that Dr Noto had now had time to read over and “chime in with some additional comments and help clarify some remaining questions regarding the scientific content of the Palaios paper.” This is what he wrote:

You are correct to point out that the environment is not a mud flat. In fact what we have at the AAS is several different environments, stacked on top of each other and preserved as rock, which shows the evolution of the area over time. The main fossil bed where most of the crocodyliform and turtle remains come from was a swampy peat marsh that was likely covered by a shallow layer of brackish water. This environment was, at least periodically, connected to the ocean, which explains the presence of some marine organisms in the deposit. You could find the same sort of thing today if you went to any large river delta. The apparent “mixing” has nothing to do with catastrophic deposition and everything to do with the location of this environment between the land and sea. Quiet environments are actually a great place to preserve fossils because very active environments tend to destroy remains.

Because biblical literalists must speed up the timing of events to fit the timeline of the bible, everything is interpreted as occurring simultaneously, which is certainly not the case when we study the rock record. Above the peat bed is a series of increasingly terrestrial deposits that indicate the sea shore migrated away from this area long enough for proper soils to develop, which can take upwards of a thousand years. Following this, sea level rose again and the shoreline came right up to the site because we have tidal flat deposits at the very top of the sequence, telling us a sea level rise was one of the last things to occur in the area (that we can see, since the record stops here). You are right to point out that sea incursions ARE NOT the same thing as tsunamis. In fact, what we mean by incursions are these relatively small changes in sea level over time that cause the shoreline to migrate back and forth. These are know as transgressive-regressive cycles that occur over periods of hundreds to thousands of years. So it is not the same as daily tidal or seasonal cycles, though you can find evidence for those preserved in the fossil record, just not at our site. Relative sea level is controlled by many different factors. If you want to improve your ability to rebut creationist rhetoric like this, I recommend getting yourself some good geology books and/or taking a geology class if one is available to you. So many of their ideas are based on misunderstandings and misconceptions of how the Earth works.

Now onto their misconceptions about fossil preservation. When paleontologists talk about assemblage formation we mean the initial accumulation of remains and it has nothing to do with fossilization. Bones accumulate all the time, in many places, and even if bones become buried it does not guarantee that they will become fossils. While excellent preservation (like for a complete articulated skeleton) usually necessitates rapid burial, most fossils lay exposed at the surface for some period before burial. But, as you are right to point out, bones are a lot tougher than other tissues. While it is true that bones left exposed out in the harsh conditions of the Serengeti will deteriorate quickly, it will still take many years before they are completely unrecognizable. Any amount of moisture or shade will increase the survival of bones enormously and there’s lots of research to back that up. Once remains are buried, fossilization may actually occur quite rapidly, faster that previously thought. It was always assumed to be a slow process that takes millions of years—yes, to complete fossilization— but the initial stages that will stabilize the inorganic matrix of the bone and allow it to last that long, may occur on the order of decades or centuries. My entire doctoral dissertation was devoted to understanding this. Myself, and the work of many others, have shown that the early stages of fossilization occur relatively rapidly and it is these processes that are absolutely critical for the long-term survival of a bone or other remains. In reality there is no one process of “fossilization” and it has no beginning or end point. Really it is about the remains being in chemical equilibrium with their environment. If I took a fossil bone and stuck it back in the ground it would continue to change in response the conditions in the sediment around it.

One thing I find funny is that Mr. Thomas seems to have no problem mentioning that some forms are extinct. Biblical literalists themselves used to refute the very idea of extinction as being against God’s will and that these animals (like dinosaurs) are simply hiding in remote areas (google Mokele Mbembe). Like all superstitions adapting to changing times, the creationists are reinventing the ideas and behaviors of other groups to remain relevant. They call themselves “scientists” but it is no different than when Christianity adopted pagan holidays in order to attract more followers as it expanded northward into Europe.

I think that now covers everything. I’ll see what I can do about getting some geology resources…

Advertisements

10 thoughts on “Cenomanian Last Stand

  1. That was nice of the lead author. Allowed for this excellent and comprehensive dessication. Which is nice, because you could’ve just gone

    “size disparity between sediment particles and bones, and relatively random orientation of bones suggests they underwent little, if any, aqueous transport.”

    And left it at that.

    Oh and I can’t see any “ICR” behind their quotes. Maybe I’m just looking for the wrong thing, but I don’t think whatever it was you’re doing worked.

    • But I’d still need to go over his other misrepresentations. And that wasn’t all he helped with, actually – he sent me his own comments on this this morning, which I’ll put up in a minute. As for the ‘ICR’ thing, what you’re looking for is something like this:

      A new cache of fossils found in Arlington, Texas, contains plenty of clues that are best explained by Noah’s Flood.

      …but considerably lighter (ED: and without the white box, obviously). I had forgotten that my laptop seems to have particularly high contrast, so when I looked at it on another computer it was all but invisible. Try looking from an angle if you can’t see it. I’ll see if I can get it or something better working for next time.

    • Well I tilted my laptop’s screen and sure enough the ICR logo was there. So I guess it didn’t really interfere with my ability to read the text, being nigh invisible. Maybe colour coding might be simpler next time, or at least be more noticeable by me. Which is obviously what you’re going for, I am the life and soul of the party.

      Also, the comments from the researcher were very detailed and interesting. I hope other authors choose to get involved with future blog posts should you contact them.

  2. YECs get away with such blatant lies about scientific matters, and even (oddly) misrepresentations or additions to scripture that are meant to DEFEND scripture, because they are playing to the gallery of the poorly educated, the highly zealous, and the extremely gullible (who sometimes are highly intelligent too).

    Brian Thomas, unlike some more subtle YECs, seems to want to postulate Noah’s Flood for almost ANY new science story about the distant past.

    I note that you contacted Dr Noto prior to posting your detailed response to the ICR piece.

    In another YEC blog of today, Tim Gilleand in the US is excited about hearing Ken Ham and Andrew Snelling speak at a conference.

    http://www.gracesalt.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/meeting-celebrities/
    I quote:
    “Dr. Snelling’s evening presentation was amazing. I need to get that on DVD! The evidences he presented for the flood all throughout the Grand Canyon was incredible. This guy knows his stuff! He showed that not only do we know that particular rock layers were formed by water, but we know the speed of the water. He showed images of a critter’s footprints being sideswiped by water! He showed how we can trace the water’s path across North America and converging on the Grand Canyon. There are not enough words I can write here to show how eye opening his talk was”.

    Ken Ham recently complained on Facebook on 21 March about US atheists wanting to brainwash children (as I’ve highlighted on a new thread at the British Centre for Science Education Community Forum ‘free for all’). Of course Ham has no problems with brainwashing per se – he does it ALL THE TIME eg by getting kids in the church audiences he addresses to recite after him “If there really was a worldwide Flood, you would find billions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth”. But he and his ilk (eg see the recent review of ‘The Magic of Reality’ at the Creation Ministries International website) detest the WRONG sort of ‘brainwashing’ aimed at young people.

  3. “why were. . . animal bones torn apart?”
    The ones with tooth marks on them? Hmm, maybe it had something to do with the 20 foot, bone-crushing crocodile.

    “. . .the data do not support that story. For example, the assemblage includes charred remains of large branches.”

    I didn’t realized fires were evidence of a flood. How silly of me.

  4. Pingback: First fire wasn’t 1 million years ago – misguided mondays « EvoAnth

  5. Pingback: First fire wasn't 1 million years ago - EvoAnth

Thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s