January 17, 2007 | David F. Coppedge

Dinosaur Fight or Common Fate?

A fossil discovery by amateurs in Montana, reported by the Great Falls Tribune, shows “a meat-eater and a plant-eater – with their tails crossed like swords.”  The fossils show “remarkable detail, right down to tendons and teeth.”  The three amateur discoverers had been scouting on private property in Garfield County.  Finding bone fragments on a canyon floor, they noticed they came from bone sticking out of the hill in crumbly stone on the hillside. 

He scrambled about 20 feet up the side of the canyon, following a trail of bone fragments, to a flat ledge where he saw what was unmistakably a large fossil: a dinosaur pelvis exposed in the rock.
    “Literally his butt was hanging out of the hill,” [Mark] Eatman said.
    The team brushed away the crumbly stone, exposing a femur articulated into the pelvis and, even more striking, tendons.
    “To see them like guitar strings going down the side of this big bone was pretty amazing,” Eatman said.

The “world-class dinosaur find” included a Gorgosaur (like a T. rex) and a ceratopsian.  The carnivore was nearly 100% complete except for a claw.
    The article discussed two controversies.  The primary dispute was about the rights of amateurs to find and sell fossils (see also a Nature article this week).  Another concerned the circumstances of the burial.  The discoverers found a tooth in the back of the plant-eater and wondered if the two were locked in combat when they died.  A paleontologist had another view.  “Based on the placement of the skeletons, it’s more likely that the two unfortunates were victims of a flood event and their bodies washed up on the same sandbar,” he said.

The hypothesis of mortal combat appeals to our sense of drama from seeing B-movies of dinosaurs, but think about it: would Gorgon be thinking about a meal while drowning?  The pro believed that they were buried in a flood event.  That’s a common explanation for a dinosaur here, a dinosaur there, and a dinosaur over yonder.  The impressive wall of bone at Dinosaur National Monument far to the south in Utah is also explained by watery burial.  They never seem to consider connecting the dots that maybe the same flood event buried them all.  For tendons and articulated limbs to be preserved it must have been a very unusual and widespread event, unlike anything ever seen in Dinotopia before.  Does their entombment in crumbly rock really support the notion that the burial occurred 75 million years ago, and that these explorers happened along just as the bones were disintegrating?  Only if one believes in dumb luck.

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Categories: Dinosaurs, Fossils

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