July 22, 2021 | David F. Coppedge

Echinoderm Graveyard Found

Thousands of sea stars, feather stars, brittle stars, sea urchins
and more found exceptionally preserved in catastrophic burial

 

Thousands of museum-quality specimens of echinoderms have been found in an “extraordinary” fossil bed in England. The location in 2022 in Cotswold country west of London is not being disclosed while experts comb through the clay beds. The BBC News article announcing the find includes video clips where paleontologists express their excitement at this site, “unquestionably one of the most important Jurassic dig sites ever discovered in the UK.” Reporter Jonathan Amos writes,

The quantities involved are astonishing. Not hundreds, not thousands, but perhaps tens of thousands of these animals that scientists collectively call “the echinoderms”. It’s a great name, derived from the Greek for “hedgehog”, or “spiny”, “skin”. What is a sea urchin, if not an “underwater hedgehog”?

Learn about feather stars in this short video from Deep Marine Scenes. Notice how delicate the arms are.

Consider just the number of feather stars found:

“And it’s the same for the comatulids, or stemless crinoids (feather stars) – 200 years’ worth of collecting is represented at the museum by about 25 specimens. Here, we’ve probably got 25 specimens just under our feet, and we’ve collected over 1,000.”

Echinodermata is a phylum of marine creatures with radial symmetry (usually five-fold), tube feet, and a water vascular system. It includes sea stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, sand dollars and many other colorful, distinctive species. Echinoderms are found in the Cambrian Explosion.

Paleontologists are calling the new site a “Jurassic Pompeii” after the Italian volcanic disaster that left figures of people so well preserved even their expressions were visible. In this new site, some of the creatures didn’t have time to escape when sudden destruction hit them.

“They tried to protect themselves, adopting the stress position of pulling their arms in,” he continues. “But it was all in vain; you can see where their arms got snagged open, right up to the crown. They were pushed into the sediment and buried alive.

Creatures like this can pull their arms in quickly, so the burial must have been extremely rapid. What do they say happened to all these echinoderms? They picture an earthquake triggering a ‘dramatic mudflow’:

Perhaps there was an earthquake that caused the mudslide and this came in and covered everything up. This is why the preservation is so amazing, because the scavengers couldn’t then get to all those animals to pick them apart.”

A local paper (Cotswold Journal) says that amateur paleontologists found the site during lockdowns from the pandemic. Chunks of wood have also been found in the strata; the local article says they found a “huge abundance of fossil wood at the site.” The scientists believe that indicated a source of offshore nutrients to the creatures. If so, the creatures lived in shallow waters.

You see this in the occasional chunk of Jurassic wood that pokes out from the goo. Maybe there was a delta not far away that was directing food-laden waters to this scene.

The fossil bed must have been buried deeply enough and rapidly enough to prevent bioturbation. The BBC article calls the catastrophic burial a “misfortune that struck this place 167 million years ago.”

Many echinoderms inhabit coral reefs, but some species live on the deep sea floor. Credit: Corel Pro Photos.

Living Fossils, Too

Speaking of echinoderms, a “living fossil” brittle star has turned up in the South Pacific. A French trawler brought up creatures over 1,000 feet down  in 2011, but the brittle star was only examined recently. Live Science reports that the unusual 8-armed specimen came to light when Australian biologist Tim O’Hara looked through a barrel of the captured specimens while visiting Paris in 2015.

After sequencing the specimen’s DNA, O’Hara and his colleagues realized the brittle star was not closely related to known species of echinoderms, the group that includes previously known brittle stars, starfish and other symmetrical bottom dwellers, like sand dollars.

This brittle star is only 1 inch in diameter with arms about 3 inches long. Each arm has what look like ‘pig snouts’ at intervals. The mouth at the center has powerful jaws. Another paleontologist recognized it as a member of a long-extinct family of brittle stars from the age of dinosaurs, about 180 million Darwin Years ago. How can that be?

The brittle stars may lurk in an environment 1,180 feet to 1,837 feet (360 to 560 meters) deep that hasn’t changed much in millions of years. The tropics at this depth seem to be a ripe spot for discovering evolutionary relicts, or surviving species of very old groups of organisms, said study leader Tim O’Hara, invertebrate curator at Museums Victoria in Melbourne, Australia.

“This is probably because tropical environments are very old, dating back to the dinosaur era, and haven’t changed much,” O’Hara told Live Science. “This allows some of these ‘living fossils’ to persist into our time.

Any living fossil like this implies two things: (1) a minimum population of the species enjoyed continuous existence for all those millions of years, and (2) the species survived multiple catastrophes and world changes (drifting continents, climate changes, earthquakes, volcanoes and the much-discussed Chicxulub impact) without leaving any fossils in the interim.

Once again, millions of years prove unhelpful for explaining the observations. The old-earthers already believe that a highly energetic catastrophe buried these echinoderms. But if the delicate creatures have existed in continuity for hundreds of millions of years, there should have been thousands of mudflows and volcanic events. It should not be so unusual to find fossil graveyards like this one.

Regarding the ‘living fossil’ brittle star, it is even more problematic for old-earthers. Recall that this brittle star is but one of dozens (hundreds?) of living fossils—creatures virtually unchanged for tens or hundreds of millions of years. So much for the inexorable force of evolution! The so-called ‘Lazarus taxa’ like the tuatara and coelacanth (and this brittle star) are especially problematic for dogmatic moyboys. They are forced to believe that such creatures lived happily all that time without leaving a trace in the fossil record, and then magically showed up alive and well in our time.

Millions of years is not helpful! The longer the time, the less credible the old-earth story becomes. It’s time to go on offense against the moyboys. Their reasoning goes like this: Doubt the Bible -> Bow the knee to Darwin -> Accept the millions of years his followers believe as a consensus* -> Observe a fact -> Make up a story to fit the fact to the timeline. To prove this is happening, try a compromise with them. Say, ‘I’ll give you five hundred thousand years for these fossils (2 orders of magnitude), if you’ll come down 2 orders of magnitude in your age estimate.’ They won’t give in. No! ‘It must be 180 million years!’ Why? Darwin needs the time! Without his precioussssss millionsssss of yearsssss, he loses his ring to rule them all and in the darkness bind them.

*Consensus is not science. Science is not consensus. Period.” —Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park.

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