September 20, 2002 | David F. Coppedge

Farewell, Cannibal Dino

Whoops, We Were Wrong Dept.:  Fossils of Coelophysis found in 1947 included members of the same species in the stomach, so they were cannibals, right?  Not so fast, corrects an article in BBC News.  The food now looks more like filet of crocodile.  After re-examining the evidence, researchers from Columbia University and the American Museum of Natural History are more cautious: “It’s not completely outrageous to say these guys were cannibals, it’s just the evidence to say that they were, is no longer there now.”  Sterling Nesbitt reminded, “Ideas need testing.”  The bite marks on the bones, also interpreted as cannibalism, could have been from scavenging.
    Meanwhile, an animatronic version of Coelophysis complete with dinosaur in mouth continues to impress children in London’s Natural History Museum.  “Mr. Nesbitt believes his team’s findings put a big question mark against the popular image of Coelophysis,” the article comments.  “— all the books, TV programmes and museum displays may have to change their content.”  A caption in the article notes that Coelophysis is not the first dinosaur to undergo reassessment.  Some paleontologists believe T. rex may have been a scavenger, not the fearsome predator depicted in the movies.
    Incidental to the article is a tidbit some may find astonishing: hundreds of specimens were found buried together in north-central New Mexico back in 1947.  “A whole group of animals had died en masse in some catastrophe.” 

Yes, ideas need testing.  Sad to say, nobody appears to have tested this initial interpretation for 60 years.  That’s two generations of dino-loving children being told a story without evidence to support it.  That’s also two generations of scientists focusing more on the diet of Coelophysis than on the amazing fact that whole populations of these creatures died together in “some catastrophe.”  Some catastrophe, indeed.

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Categories: Dinosaurs, Fossils, Media

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