Misinterpreting Fossil Graveyards
Fossils are real, but the stories concocted to explain how mixed-up animals became buried together involve assumptions.
The news media were all chattering Friday March 29 about a fossil graveyard in North Dakota that contained dinosaurs, fish and trees, along with other unlikely neighbors, all compacted together. All of them assumed that the story being told about a tsunami from the Chicxulub asteroid impact burying them together was the truth: not only the best theory, but the only theory. The headlines were overconfident:
Fossils record dinosaur-killing impact (Jonathan Amos, BBC News).
Scientists have found an extraordinary snapshot of the fallout from the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.
Excavations in North Dakota reveal fossils of fish and trees that were blasted with rocky fragments that fell from the sky.
The deposits show evidence also of having been swamped with water – the consequence of the colossal sea surge that was generated by the impact.
66 million-year-old deathbed linked to dinosaur-killing meteor (UC Berkeley News). This article even comes with artwork depicting the tsunami burying the gasping dinosaurs and a minute-by-minute playbook of what happened. Before accepting the timeline, though, take a look at the data. Fish were found buried on top of one another. The animals found buried together did not normally live anywhere near each other:
This unique, fossilized graveyard — fish stacked one atop another and mixed in with burned tree trunks, conifer branches, dead mammals, mosasaur bones, insects, the partial carcass of a Triceratops, marine microorganisms called dinoflagellates and snail-like marine cephalopods called ammonites — was unearthed by paleontologist Robert DePalma over the past six years in the Hell Creek Formation, not far from Bowman, North Dakota.
Is this the only story to fit the observations?
Catastrophic failure of Earth’s global systems led to the extinction of the dinosaurs (Simon Beard, The Conversation). At about the same time as the previous articles, this author wrote that the asteroid theory may be the “consensus” view, but it is not the only view.
But this was not the only dramatic event to coincide with the death of the dinosaurs. At around the same time, in central India, a truly colossal series of volcanoes were spewing out over a million cubic kilometres of lava together with sulphur and carbon dioxide that changed the climate and caused global acid rain. Meanwhile, a slowing of undersea tectonic activity led to one of the most rapid periods of falling sea levels in the history of the planet, devastating coastal ecosystems.
This has led to some pretty heated debates about what “really” killed the dinosaurs, especially as there have been times when similarly dramatic events occurred without seeming to cause nearly so much harm.
Some of the evidence from North Dakota appears to support their asteroid theory: tektites (glass beads) in amber and in fish gills, thought to have resulted from the impact thousands of miles away. Walter Alvarez, who in 1979 with his father Luis proposed the asteroid impact theory, saw the site and considers the tektites a good confirmation of his theory. A fast-moving tectonic wave, or seiche, might have arrived at the site around the same time as the tektites began falling, flinging the fish onto the land. Then, the tsunami came, burying the animals and fish together. It’s a compelling scenario, but is it the only one? Several events appear linked to the impact, but the timing and energy level was also critical.
Update April 3, 2019: Skeptics of the report by Robert DePalma are noting “something weird” in his story. Fox News republished an article from news.com.au that complains that the actual PNAS paper is not jiving with astounding hyped claims made in a story from New Yorker Magazine that preceded the paper. Noted paleontologists don’t find evidence for a ‘dinosaur graveyard’ in the published data, and worry about the secrecy surrounding the location. DePalma responded to Live Science about some of the criticisms, explaining that more data will be published later. The most complete skeptical review appeared the next day in Science by Colin Barras, who thinks future studies of the Tanis site will be required to settle the controversies.
The Noahic flood would have involved many of the very same phenomena inferred in North Dakota. Many flood geologists believe that impacts and volcanoes accompanied the surging waters, and lightning storms occurred, the likes of which earth had never seen, igniting forests soon to be buried by flood waters. A global flood certainly had the energy to transport land animals and marine animals over long distances and bury them together with debris from charred forests. Secular geologists, however, assume from the outset that the Biblical account is just a myth to be dismissed, no matter how good the match with the data.
To be an evolutionist, you have to believe in several impossible things before breakfast. Evolutionists propose 9 near-universal extinction events, not just one. In the moyboy timeline of millions and billions of years, like Beard says, “similarly dramatic events occurred without seeming to cause nearly so much harm.” Throughout planetary science, we have seen secularists employing impacts as convenient theory rescue devices. They use them everywhere, not just on earth. The impact theory as a rescue device should be considered suspect in this case as well, considering that the cause of the dinosaur extinction is still a matter of “heated debates” long after the Alvarez team proposed it 40 years ago. And as William of Ockham would have advised, one should avoid invoking multiple causes when one cause will do.