Every time a new fossil turns up, a theory quakes. New evidence can subject a theory to the falsification test.
Here are new fossil discoveries in recent days. Can evolutionary theory tolerate them? From past experience, they have shown a well-stocked shed of rescue devices.
Sponge surprise. An exceptionally preserved set of sponge fossils has been found in China. Since these date from shortly after the alleged Ordovician Extinction (445 million Darwin Years ago), it’s surprising they were doing so well; “These post-extinction sponge faunas were as diverse as modern communities,” Current Biology reports. “Our study reveals an extraordinarily diverse, sponge-dominated community thriving immediately after” the extinction event. Some 75 species were identified.
The early fish. Scientists discovered a fish in China that didn’t know its debut date. It showed up before the Devonian “Age of Fishes,” PLoS One says. All the discoverers could think to say was that this area of China “may have been an early center of diversification for early gnathostomes, well before the advent of the Devonian ‘Age of Fishes’.” Science Daily ran up with a ring buoy, saying that the fossil “may provide insight into the early evolution of jawed vertebrates.” Insight is nice, isn’t it?
Monster catfish. A giant catfish almost 7 feet long has been found, but you’ll never guess where. National Geographic gives the answer: the Sahara, in “a dramatic, forbidding desert southwest of Cairo,” Egypt. It’s said to be 37 million Darwin Years old.
Monster worm. Searching through museum shelves, scientists found the jaws of a monster worm with powerful jaws that preyed on fish. Phys.org calls it a case of gigantism, “a poorly understood phenomenon among marine worms” according to the discoverers. They give this fossil 400 million Darwin Years. Be glad it’s extinct; it would have been about a meter long with snapping jaws.
Jurassic beauties. Exceptionally-preserved fossils of “articulated vertebrates (fish, ichthyosaurs), crinoids, crustaceans, brachiopods, abundant mollusks (coleoids with soft tissues, ammonites, gastropods, bivalves), wood, and microfossils” have been found near Alberta, Canada, the journal Geology reported. Considered early Jurassic, they are given 183 million Darwin Years.
Permian sundial. For the first time, dendrochronology has been applied to a Permian fossil forest. The two researchers reporting the find in Geology found nearly the same sunspot cycle in the patterns as our modern 11-year cycle. “This is the earliest record of sunspot cyclicity and simultaneously demonstrates its long-term stable periodicity for at least 300 m.y.,” they say.
Dinosaur dinner. Mineralized stomach contents of a sauropod dinosaur, said to be 180 million years old, are described by Jon Tennant in a PLoS Blog copied on Phys.org. He let slip a Darwin conundrum worth remembering: “it comes from one of the major dinosaur groups called Ornithischia – the bird-hipped lizards (ironically, not the dinosaur lineage that led to birds, but that’s another story).”
Dinosaur-bird-pterosaur dance floor. Tracks of dinosaurs, birds and pterosaurs have been found together in Mexico. Apparently the Chicxulub impact didn’t wipe out everything close by (for more on that, see CMI article). Geology GSA Bulletin says,
The trackway assemblages at Amargos and Rancho San Francisco were produced by at least six different types of birds, while trackways of azhdarchoid pterosaurs are rare. Only a single footprint was produced by a nonavian theropod. A diverse ichnofauna of arthropod traces is also present in a different facies. The tetrapod trackway assemblage was deposited during the very latest Maastrichtian, as indicated by an up to 2.5-m-thick unit with abundant smectite spherules attributed to the Chicxulub impact less than 8.5 m stratigraphically up section at Amargos. Sphenodiscus pleurisepta is the last ammonite at Amargos and may have crossed the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary.
Lake fossils in Idaho categorized as Miocene show exceptional preservation, says another paper in Geology. (Exquisite deposits with extraordinary fossils are dubbed Konservat-Lagerstätte or simply Lagerstätten.) “Here, we present evidence for a previously unrecognized, geologically instantaneous drop in the Clarkia Lake water level,” the authors say, thinking that a volcanic event drained the lake and concentrated the fossils.
Rewrite the tree again. Did you know some extinct rodents were almost as big as buffalo? It’s true. (The largest rodent today, the capybara, wimps out at 174 pounds.) The skull of a giant rodent called a dinomid, that probably weighed close to a ton, has been found in Uruguay. The skull fragments include parts of a juvenile and an adult. Science Daily says it “raises questions.” And Live Science declares, “Extinct Giant Rodents’ Family Tree Rewritten by New Fossil Finds.” What’s the problem?
Comparing them we conclude that from very young the giant rodents already were very similar to the adults which allows us to deduce that the great majority of the hypotheses before posed were wrong. The juvenile and the adult analyzed here represent some of the largest rodents known to science with some of these animals weighing almost a ton.
Primate bites tree. A primate fossil from India is also shaking Darwin’s tree. Phys.org says the “Newfound primate teeth take a big bite out of the evolutionary tree of life.” This animal, about the size of a cat and related to lemurs, is awarded 11 to 14 million Darwin Years. “The question that remains is how the ecosystem in northern India supported this species when its relatives elsewhere were disappearing or had already gone extinct.”
Tooth truth. Science sites are reporting the Neanderthal Man had a decent medicine chest. Examination of plaque left on teeth provides clues to diet. Science Daily reports that Neanderthal teeth from Spain show remains of poplar, a source of aspirin, and a kind of mold that produces penicillin. The diet also appears to have been largely vegetarian. Here’s more evidence contradicting the old picture of stupid brutes: Dr Laura Weyrich from Australia says,
“Apparently, Neandertals possessed a good knowledge of medicinal plants and their various anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, and seem to be self-medicating. The use of antibiotics would be very surprising, as this is more than 40,000 years before we developed penicillin. Certainly our findings contrast markedly with the rather simplistic view of our ancient relatives in popular imagination.”
That “popular imagination,” it must be recalled, was fed by Big Science of the 20th century, and Big Media, including National Geographic. They all championed the misleading and discredited “march of progress” icon of human evolution.
Roy Plotnick threw this bombshell into Geology: is the fossil record fractal? In “Recurrent hierarchical patterns and the fractal distribution of fossil localities,” he argues that the record of the rocks is self-similar at multiple scales. We saw something like this back in 2004, when Schlager wrote about the “Fractal Nature of Stratigraphic Sequences.” Plotnick references a 2010 paper by Schlager, “Ordered hierarchy versus scale invariance in sequence stratigraphy.”
Creation geologist Andrew Snelling calls this a “potentially important paper,” although he has not yet examined it in detail. “But you are right that a fractal character of the fossil record would put a spanner in the normal evolutionary works for interpretations of ages and evolutionary sequences among the fossils,” he explains. “In their view the record should be random, not systematic.” (Personal communication)
Darwin skeptics may want to read these papers and think about what they imply. Whatever is going on, Plotnick rightly says that “Understanding the spatial structure of fossil localities is critical for interpreting Earth system processes based on their geographic distribution.”
Lots of material here for Darwin skeptics. With the exception of common fossils that fall into the same neat categories (e.g., forams, marine invertebrates), it seems the Darwinians are surprised by new fossils more often than not. Let’s open our minds to other possibilities than slow-and-gradual Darwinian evolution.