Those Fascinating Dinosaurs
Author: Ian Taylor
Dinosaurs hold a particular fascination for many people, particularly children, and the great beasts have come to exemplify a pre-historic Reptile Age of 60 million years ago. These vast ages are essential for the theory of evolution and any evidence that suggests that some of those creatures from the Age of Reptiles are still alive puts into question the millions of years of their supposed extinction. More seriously it poses a threat to the theory of evolution itself. Fossil dinosaur bones were discovered in the nineteenth century while the name “dinosaur” was not coined until 1841. From the fossil bones, bone structure, skin impressions, nests, and even eggs it was possible to conclude that the dinosaurs were like the reptiles of today, that is they were cold-blooded and not covered in fur or feathers. Experts agreed upon this until just a few years ago. Over 350 types of dinosaur are known and have been categorized into two basic types: the crocodilian that walked or waddled on four legs like a crocodile and the bird-hipped type typified by the ever-popular T. rex. While museum displays give the common perception that dinosaurs were huge creatures most were, in fact, quite small, typically the bird-hipped compsognathous was only about the size of a pigeon.
The popular film, Jurassic Park, released in 1993, made use of computer animation to very effectively show what dinosaurs may have looked like and it is significant that those shown, particularly the Velociraptors, were very agile, fast moving and dangerous. There has always been the problem faced by believers in evolution to find real tangible evidence of transition creatures with say, legs evolving into wings. The bird-hipped dinosaurs and large birds such as the ostrich suggested just such a relationship. Jurassic Park was a reflection of the modern trend to advance the notion that the birds did evolve from the bird-hipped dinosaurs. Birds are, of course, warm-blooded and major physiological changes must occur, even in the bone structure, in order for a cold-blooded reptile to evolve into a warm-blooded bird! In order to circumvent this problem it was decided to declare that the dinosaurs were warm blooded and thus they are shown today in film and book illustrations as active creatures, running and fighting. Bear in mind that this is all speculation masquerading as science. Many examples of this kind of propaganda can be found in the popular media. For example, the scientist Peter Wellnhofner, reporting in Science (June 1988) said of a recent find of a bird-hipped dinosaur fossil, “These features are interpreted as imprints of feather shafts.” The media reporter, Pat Shipman, paraphrased those words in the January 1989 issue of Discover as, “feather impressions are distinct.” Or again, the scientist David Burnham referring to a similar discovery in China in 1988 named Bambiraptor cautiously said, “may have been covered by feathers.” By the pen of the AP reporter, Terry Spencer, this became, “… the structure of its arms and feathers may have allowed it to fly.” Possibly the worst offender in this type of truth-stretching is the National Geographic magazine. A major article titled “Feathers for T. rex.?” appeared in its November 1999 issue (p.98) in which the author boldly stated,” It’s a missing link between terrestrial dinosaurs and birds that could actually fly and we can now say that birds are theropods just as confidently as we say that humans are mammals.” In response to this article, Storrs Olsen, Smithsonian curator of birds published an open letter to National Geographic in which he said, “With the publication of ‘Feathers for T. rex?’ … National Geographic has reached an all time low for engaging in sensationalistic, unsubstantiated tabloid journalism … The idea of feathered dinosaurs … is being actively promoted by a cadre of zealous scientists acting in concert with certain editors at Nature and National Geographic who themselves have become outspoken and highly biased proselytizers of the faith … which is fast becoming one of the grander scientific hoaxes of our age.” Finally, acknowledged bird expert Alan Feduccia gave his opinion of the “feathered dinosaur” theories in a national TV interview in March 1998: ‘It’s a delusional fantasy by which one can vicariously study dinosaurs at the back yard bird feeder … there is absolutely no evidence for any feather structure on any dinosaur.” Two months later the fossil for the National Geographic article was found to be a fake!
What about the evidence that dinosaurs became extinct 60 or 70 million years ago? The very same week that the film Jurassic Park was released, the National Science Foundation announced that graduate student Mary Schweitzer had found blood cells sealed away in the marrow of a 65 million year old T. rex bone. The article quoted Mary’s reaction, “I got goose bumps … it was exactly like looking at a slice of modern bone … How could blood cells survive that long?” To compound the problem, strands of DNA were later identified within the blood. (Science Research News, September 7, 1993). The public is generally unaware that although the majority of fossil bones are mineralized and thus blood chemistry could not be applied, from time to time bones are found preserved as bone as they were in this case in the frozen wastes of Alaska. Since that time, other similar discoveries of un-mineralized bones embedded in rock 2,000 feet down in a coal mine, have been made and have led to heated discussion among the experts. They acknowledge that blood cells and DNA can only last for thousands of years and not millions but this raised further questions such as what are dinosaurs doing in the Ice Age? Further, if Man was alive during the Ice Age, were Man and dinosaurs contemporaneous?
In the first place, a claim based upon fossil evidence that the creature represented is extinct is simply speculation. It may seem reasonable but it is not science. To be scientific and accurate involves disproof of the claim meaning that the entire earth must be search and, if no living specimens are found, it may be said to be extinct. The list of mistakes made in the past is long beginning with the gorilla said to be extinct or mythological until the first live specimen was seen in 1861. Such creatures are said to be “living fossils.” The coelacanth, a large fish with lobe fins and only known from its fossils until 1938 when a living specimen was caught off the west coast of Madagascar. Recently, more have been found in the Philippines. The fossil of an antelope-type creature was found in Africa and given the name Paleotragus said to have lived 25 million years ago. In 1908 a living herd was discovered and named Okapi johnsoni, after its discoverer. The sloth, as it is known today, is a small slow-moving creature that hangs by its large claws from the branches of tall trees. The ground sloth is believed to be related, has the same huge claws but stands over seven feet tall and said to be extinct; its fossil form was given the name grypotherium. For years there have been rumors among the rubber plantation workers of the western Amazon of an evil-smelling, 500-pound giant mammal with reddish hair; they call it the Mapinguari. In 1899 the remains of one of these creatures were found in a cave in Patagonia together with human remains suggesting that the creature had been domesticated. So far, no living specimen has been caught although there are a number of eye-witnesses. Possibly the giant ground sloth may be another “living fossil.”
With this much evidence to cause doubt about the extinction of so-called prehistoric creatures millions of years ago, we might well ask if man and dinosaurs actually did live at the same time? From the creation account in Genesis 1:25-31 God made the “beast of the earth” then Adam and finally Eve on the sixth day so we would expect that from the very first man and dinosaur were contemporaneous although likely not in the same location. Further, God speaks to Job (chap. 40) about a creature He calls Behemoth having “strong hips and powerful stomach muscles” (v.16) and, “a tail like a cedar” (v.17) living in marshy reeds and overflowing rivers (v.21-23). Some Bible footnotes say this is an elephant but “tail like a cedar” better fits the diplodocus or apatosaurus. In Job chap. 41 God speaks of “Leviathan” a fearsome marine monster. Recalling that the name “dinosaur,” meaning terrible lizard (a cold-blooded reptile), was not coined until 1841, we would not expect this name to appear in ancient literature. However, there are references to “dragons” and other more local names found in the ancient literature from many different cultures. One of the earliest Old English poems dates to an event that took place in Denmark in the 6th century. The hero, Beowulf was a Geat (from southern Sweden) who killed the monster, Grendel, which had come from the swamps and terrified the people of Denmark. Of especial interest is the description of the monster given in lines 710-835 of this poem that nicely describes the T. rex. Interestingly, although Beowulf is required reading for students of Old English, those lines are often expunged from modern translations! Many old manuscripts and books contain small hand-painted illustrations or engravings some showing “flying dragons.” An illustration from the book of the Chinese Emperor K’I (1766 BC) shows the Emperor in his chariot being pulled by two fire-breathing dragons with wings. Some 15th century Persian paintings also show these same, or very similar, “dragon-like” creatures. Illustrations of these same creatures may also be found in Theodore de Bry’s Americana mentioned below. Thus, descriptions or illustrations may be found of the archetype dragons in the literature from Persia to that of the early explorers of the Americas. Probably one of the most famous is the story of St. George and the Dragon but this is undoubtedly a conflation. George was a Turkish Christian in the Roman army stationed in England and was martyred for his faith; unlike Beowulf, the early accounts say nothing about St. George killing a dragon.
The 5th century BC Greek historian, Herodotus, wrote about the “winged serpents of Buto in Arabia that were attacked by the Ibis bird” (Book II, 75 ) and the “winged snakes of Arabia” ( Book III, 109). Flying serpents or snakes are referred to in other ancient literature but in Theodore de Bry’s Americana (1618, part 10, plate 4) there is a remarkable copper plate engraving showing Spanish soldiers visiting the natives of Virginia with a number of large flying snakes in the fore-ground, alive but tied ready to be cooked and eaten. In another volume of Americana (1591, Part 2, plate 26) the engraving shows how the Indians of Florida killed the alligators that posed a great danger to them. In contrast to the alligators of Florida we see today where a ten-foot specimen is considered large, those in the 16th century were at least thirty feet long.
We now turn to modern accounts and eyewitnesses to creatures that are remarkably like the pterodactyls and pterosaurs that are seen as reconstructions in the museums. In Kasempa, Northern Zimbabwe, a featherless flying creature with a seven-foot wingspan and teeth in its beak has been seen on several occasions. The local people call it the Kongamato and their description closely resembles that of the pterodactyl. A colony of pterodactyl-like creatures with a four-foot wingspan live in a cave on Bel Mountain that dominates the Island of Manus, New Ireland Providence, New Guinea. The people there call them Ropen and the local pastor complains that when a body is buried guards have to posted at night for the first week or so to prevent the Ropen from digging it up. In this same area, in the islands just to the north of Australia, near the town of Gasmetra, New Britain Providence, New Guinea, there have been numerous reports of a giant pterosaur the people call the Duah. In North America pilots reported having seen a giant bird-like creature reminding them of the Indian legends of the “Thunder bird.” In Africa the people living near the swamps of the Cameroon area, central Congo, complain of the Mokéle-Mbêmbe an enormous creature and the deadly opponent of the hippopotamous. The people have been shown pictures of a variety of large animals and without exception everyone has identified it as the diplodocus (double-beamed), a dinosaur with a long neck and long tail. If this or even any of the pterodactyl sightings are genuine it is going to be very difficult to prove with photographs or film because computer simulation is so good today.
In 1945 German archaeologist, Waldemar Julsrud discovered clay figurines at the foot of El Toro Mountain, Acambaro, Mexico. Over 32,000 of these figurines were finally recovered and identified with the Chupicuaro culture that flourished between 800 BC and 200 AD. The figurines were declared authentic by the officials of the Mexican government until 1954 when a figurine of a dinosaur-like creature with a human figures on its back appeared. The certificate of authenticity was immediately withdrawn. On hearing of this, Professor of the History of Science at Keene State College of the University of New Hampshire, Charles Hapgood (The Mystery of Acambaro and well known author of Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings 1966) went to Acambaro the following year (1955) and excavated 43 more figurines from beneath the house of the police chief. This showed beyond doubt that the figurines were not recent fake artifacts. Thermoluminescent dating gave 4500 years or 2500 BC. Among these figurines were some creatures that were clearly dinosaurs and some were of the same winged serpents shown in the engravings of Theodore de Bry.
Finally, in the industrial town of Ica, Peru, some remarkable andesite stones have been discovered during the last decade. Each stone is a little smaller than a basket ball and generally oval shaped but covered with engravings of a variety of creatures including fish and some that are very clearly dinosaurs. Andesite is one of the hardest minerals. Carving those beautiful and quite detailed engravings must have been very difficult and it is inconceivable that they could be modern forgeries. The exact location of this discovery has been kept secret and the stones are held under guard at the local museum. Of course, government officials refuse to authenticate these artifacts while the reason is undoubtedly because of the pictures of the dinosaurs. Again, this is seen as a threat to the millions of years and the theory of evolution.
Photo: Ica stone depicting dinosaurs. Courtesy of Brattarb. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Heuvelmans, Bernard. 1995. On the Track of Unknown Animals. New York: Kegan Paul. Johnson, Ludwell. 1952. Men and elephants … The Scientific Monthly (Wash’) 75:215-221. Koster, John. 1977. Creature feature. Oceans (San Francisco) 10:56-59.
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