Posted: Feb 28, 2010 1:07 pm
by theropod
Greeetings All,
This posting is a modified version that I originally posted a little over a year ago on and Cali made this a sticky just before the great dying, but the edits are minor,and neither add or subtract from the first edition in a meaningful manner. I have removed Cali's comments to more focus this on the science and not the dubunking. If the moderation feels this is an inappropriate sub forum I have no issues with movement to the correct place.

Paleontology is a multi-faceted field and each face requires independent testing. Geology, comparative anatomy, paleobotany, pathology, geochemistry, hydrology, morphology, geochronology, and paleo-biodiversity all must be addressed with testing.


When one collects a specimen, let's say a hadrosaur femur, one must establish the geologic framework in which this bone is found. Is this a product of in situ burial or postmortem transportation? In order to determine this one must examine the formation carefully and test the conclusions. If the bone is found in what appear to be a high energy deposit, such as fine grained sandstone, one could assume this to be the case but assumptions are not acceptable. The underlying and capping layers must be examined to assure the facts are the facts. If the sandstone has inclusions of botanical matter the high energy assumption could be wrong and imply an overbank situation. If the specimen has microscopic abrasion markings there is evidence of postmortem transportation, but not proof. Comparing this individual specimen to others displaying similar markings and the depositional environment thereof is part of the testing. This is a simplification of the procedures but without this testing all one has is a dinosaur bone, which is scientifically worthless.

Comparative Anatomy:

Returning to this same hadrosaur femur, how do we know this is a hadrosaur femur at all? We look at the vast number of other specimens and test the physical characteristics by precise measurements. We look at the muscle attachment scars, joint angles, wall thickness, marrow features and other factors and determine the possibility of species relationship. This testing procedure is required to establish this relationship. Without this testing we again have nothing more than a dinosaur bone.


When we excavate the hadrosaur femur we must retrieve samples of any plant matter in close proximity. We then test these associated samples for chronological matching. If we find that the plant matter is from a species known to be post Cretaceous in nature we can be confident in stating that the bone has been reworked (eroded from older deposits and replaced within younger deposits). However if the plant matter is known to be of a nature consistent with the time frame wherein hadrosaurs were extant we can establish an accurate chronological setting. Without this testing all we have is a dinosaur bone and no further knowledge.


Let us consider the possibility that this hadrosaur femur doesn't meet the morphometric data points and has unexplained oddities. This bone still meets other data points to establish that it is a hadrosaur, but these abnormalities present problems. Since vet care was non existent and we know many animals survived being injured these oddities are more common than many realize. We examine these oddities and test these against modern examples of injuries and let the data reveal the causes for these oddities. If a bone has fractured and healed, for example, we can see where the bone grew imperfectly. If this bone suffered from an infection we can see the pitting and other trace information. Without the testing all we have is an odd looking dinosaur bone.


The hadrosaur bone is extremely well preserved we must determine why. Many dinosaur fossils are not well preserved and we ask why for these as well. If there is a high level of silicate replacement of the organic bone material we can discover why. How? We test the bone and surrounding matrix for the composition of the chemical nature which transform the bone into a fossil. In contrast we can test for the reason why the bone was not replaced by silicates. There are other chemical agents which contribute or subtract from the fossilization process and these can all be revealed by careful testing. Without this testing all we have is either a great looking rock hard dinosaur bone or a crumbling mess that drive prep workers insane.


In association with the other tested conditions mentioned above we must address the influence of water on the hadrosaur bone. Assuming we have established by previous testing that the specimen has been transported prior to deposit we must test to establish how much energy was involved. Dr. Horner established that one of the bone beds he examined was a result of a massive, but localized, flood event. Those exclusive (no other species represented) hadrosaur bones displayed sharp fractures and strange orientations that could only result from the energy present in such a localized flood event. Slow moving water does not lead to such depositional factors. Also the inclusion of inorganic matter, such as boulders, can reveal the energy of a flood event. Without testing for these conditions all we know is that the dinosaur bone was deposited in the matrix. Again, just a dinosaur bone.


How do we know this is a hadrosaur femur, and how do we know if this is an adult, juvenile, hatchling, or a new species? We test the bone for data points that have been established by prior work. In conjunction with comparative anatomy we test to see if the data points are correct and if not why. Dwarfism and other considerations must be addressed. A fully adult dwarf hadrosaur would display some adult characteristics and some juvenile characteristics. A new species of small hadrosaur would present a consistent set of data points across the age range of a life cycle, as would a larger species. Without this testing we have nothing but an odd dinosaur bone.


So we have established that this is a hadrosaur bone and the environment in which it lived, died and was deposited. Now we must test to establish the geologic time for these events. We do radiometric testing to establish this in association with the paleo-botany and by other means. If the geochronological data matches for the species of known hadrosaurs we can safely conclude the species or family identity. If, however, the dating reveals the specimen falls outside the known time frame wherein the known speciation of hadrosaurs exists we must ask why? Without testing we have nothing but a hadrosaur bone which may or may not be a representation of a new species and of unknown age.


When we recover this hadrosaur bone we also find a shed tooth of a large predatory dinosaur and a few smaller predator teeth. We can test to determine the species of these teeth to cross check the time frame. We know the difference between Tyrannosaur teeth and those of Albertosaur, and those of Dromeosaurs, Troodon and Sauronitholetes and the difference between these. We know, by testing, that these teeth represent a sample of the other dinosaurs present when the hadrosaur bone was deposited. These tests determine the predator-prey ratios and in association with other herbivores we test for the diversity of the fauna of a local environment. One revealing aspect of this testing is the overall decline in dinosaur species, but not numbers, towards the end of the Cretaceous. Without testing for the biodiversity of the environment all we have is a bone and some teeth.

So, when claims are made that there is no testing done in paleontology just go ahead and laugh. It displays a level of ignorance so elevated that it cannot easily be measured. Actually I know of no accurate means by which we could measure such.