Posts Tagged ‘creationist’

The Vero Beach Mammoth Engraving

February 19, 2012

About 5 years ago James Kennedy, an amateur fossil collector, found a nondescript scrap of bone near Vero Beach, Florida.  It seemed so ordinary he went home and promptly stuck it in a box under his sink.  But a few months later he took it out of the box, cleaned it,  and discovered it was not nondescript at all–there was an engraving of a mammoth on it.  Paleolithic art on portable objects such as bone, antler, and rock are common in Europe but before this discovery unknown in North America.

Up close view of the mammoth engraving.  The domed forehead indicates it depicts a mammoth, not a mastodon.  The fossil is mineralized and has no DNA left for species identification. The whole scrap of bone is just 16 inches long.  The engraving itself is about 4 inches wide. 

This fossil is an incredible and rare find from a site that has produced a bounty of other wonderful fossils and artifacts, including human remains probably dating to about 14,000 calender years BP.  Of course the first thought to cross the minds of scientists when they initially saw the specimen was the possibility that it might be fake.  But there are several ingenius scientific techniques that can detect whether the artifact is a fraud or not.  By analyzing the ratio of rare earth elements found in the specimen (a method I’ve discussed on a couple of previous blog entries including https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2011/08/28/the-fossil-rich-region-of-tunica-hills-louisiana/) they determined the fossil dates to the Pleistocene and did come from the Vero Beach site.  After examination of the specimen under a microscope, scientists concluded the engraving showed the same amount of weathering as the rest of the bone.  A fresh engraving would look much clearer than the rest of the bone.  Scientists made a fresh incision on this bone, then used a scanning electron microscope to compare the fresh cuts with the older engraved cuts.  The fresh cuts had a “debris field” (microscopic dust) whereas the engraved one didn’t, suggesting an older debris field eroded away.  Also, it looks as if the mineralization of the bone occurred across the engraving.  Scientists conducted 2 additional tests to determine if the engraving was authentic.  Energy dispersion x-ray spectroscopy can detect whether the specimen was cut, then applied with a substance that made it look mineralized.  No substance they could detect was used.  Finally, they made a cast and mold of the fossil and subjected it to reflection transformation imagery (http://vcg.isti.cnr.it/Publications/2006/DCCS06/).  This helped them determine the engraving wasn’t made recently.

James Kennedy with what looks like a bunch of fossils.

I’m convinced it’s authentic.  From examining Mr. Kennedy’s dwelling (his home?) in the above photograph, he appears to be a working class kind of guy and unlikely to be harboring a method that can fool modern forensic scientific techniques.

According to a Mammoth Trumpet article, the Vero Beach mammoth engraving is being auctioned.  If a museum doesn’t place the highest bid, this specimen could be lost to science.

The whole scrap of bone with the engraving on it.  Geometric designs extended past the broken end. The size of the bone narrows it down to either mammoth, mastodon, or giant sloth.  Not enough is left for scientists to determine which it was.  But without a doubt the engraving depicts a mammoth.  Mammoths had  domed forehead, mastodons didn’t.  If I had to make a bet, I’d gamble the bone is from a mammoth because it’s likely the paleo-indian who engraved it was drawing the animal it was from.

Vero Man was NOT a 12 Foot Tall Giant

While researching the topic of this blog entry, I came across a creationist blogger who claimed the scientists who originally examined the fossils from the Vero Beach excavation found bones of 12 foot tall men.  Supposedly, this supported the existence of giants as recorded in biblical accounts.  I knew this was bullshit, but the creationist had a source–a newspaper article written in 1930.  I assumed the newspaper reporter was probably a sensationalist idiot, incapable of distinguishing his ass from a hole in the ground. I was certain the reporter had never even read the original scientific paper and had gotten his facts confused.  I’ve read hundreds of scientific papers on paleontological discoveries, and scientists always give exact measurements of every single body part when they find something new and different.  So I searched and found the article written by E.H. Sellards in 1916, and much to my delight, it was available for free online.

It’s an excellent paper, quite advanced for its time–realize that in 1915 when workers were digging  the drainage canal that led to the abundant  fossil discoveries here, north Florida was a wilderness with a few subsistence farmers, cotton plantations, and lumber operations.  The canal construction bisected an extinct river bed that formerly flowed into the Indian River lagoon.  The extinct river was about 100 yards across but was shallow.  I suspect it was a kind of brackish stream.  Workers kept finding cartloads of Pleistocene-age fossils, attracting the attention of E. H. Sellards, a geologist, and O. Hays, a vertebrate zoologist.  Dr. Sellards told the workers to look for human remains, though he didn’t expect them to find any because at the time conventional wisdom assumed that Pleistocene mammal extinctions in North America occurred before man’s arrival on the continent.  Much to his surprise, workers and fossil collectors did find human remains in 3 different places along the canal, and human artifacts in 2 additional spots–all associated in the same strata with bones of Pleistocene-age mammals.  This was the first evidence ever that humans co-existed with extinct Pleistocene mammals in North America.  In total they found the remains of at least 5 individual people.

The human specimens from the first locality included leg, heel, feet, and finger bones.  They were found associated with fossils of mammoths, mastodons, horses, deer, and Jefferson’s ground sloth.  The mammal fossils had the same degree of mineralization as the human fossils.

The human specimens from the second locality consisted of ankle, pubic, and finger bones and were found with 7 flint tools.  I’m no expert on lithics, but from the pictures in Dr. Sellards’ paper, they look like scrapers used to scrape fur from hides.  These specimens and artifacts were found associated with fossils of mammoth, horse, tapir, possum, rabbit, cotton rat, armadillo, shrew, alligator, snakes, and acorns.  Lots of good plant fossils were initially discovered, but after exposure to air overnight, all but the acorns, turned to dust.  Dr. Sellards could have used the benefit of modern techniques to prevent this.

The human specimens from the third locality included arm, shoulder, jaw, foot, tooth, toe, and skull bones along with broken pottery, bone implements, and flint arrowheads.

Dr. Sellards also found mammoth and bird bones with human-made engravings.  These were found associated with fossils of horse, saber-tooth, deer, tapir, horse, rabbit, round-tailed muskrat, raccoon, alligator, snake, fish, amphibian, bird, acorns, and wood.

Dr. Sellards wrote “Undisturbed strata over human bones precluded the possiblity of human grave burial intruding into the sediment.”  He even found a heavy rock over some of the human bones.  Moreover, if these were more recent purposeful graves, more of the skeletons would have been found rather than just disarticulated pieces.  Despite Dr. Sellards’ sound reasoning, Ales Hrudlicka, the leading American anthropologist then, insisted these bones were from later Indian burials intruding into the older fossil deposit.  This controversy occurred before the invention of carbon dating which would have settled the issue.  Dr. Hrudlicka refused to believe Indians co-existed with now extinct Pleistocene mammals, even after discovery of Clovis arrowheads in mammoth bones in 1932.  Comically, he once gave a lecture denying this possibility, immediately following presentation of the famous Clovis evidence at a symposium. Some people are just so close-minded, they can’t accept evidence, even after it slaps them upside the head.  Which brings me back to the creationist.

In Dr. Sellards paper he only gives measurements for 1 of the human specimens.  He measured “the lower margin of the lesser tuberosity to the upper margin of the inner condylur on the femur.”  It was 29 cm.  On an average modern human that part of the leg is 32 cm.  So if anything, that particular Indian was smaller than average–not a 12 foot giant as the full-of-shit journalist reported in his article in 1930.  The creationist blogger should have taken the effort to do some critical thinking and deeper research before he regurgitated phony bullshit.

For a century now this drainage canal in Vero Beach has been a productive site for amateur fossil collectors.  In addition to species mentioned above, they’ve found fossils of dire wolves, jaguars, bobcats, llamas, bison, pampatheres (a 300 pound armadillo), and Eremotherium–a really giant ground sloth.  But this will soon be coming to an end.  The city of Vero Beach is planning to cover the canal in concrete and turn it into a sewage outlet, though they are giving scientists extra time to do some last minute collecting before they close this door to the past.

Incidentally, all the human remains from the Vero Beach fossil site were lost.  After their discovery the specimens were shuttled back and forth between the Smithsonian Insitution and Florida State, but by 1947 interested parties lost all track of them.  What a shame.

References:

Lepper, Bradley

“Mammoth Engraved on Bone from Florida”

Mammoth Trumpet (27) 1 January 2012

Sellards, E.H.

“Human Remains and Associated Fauna from the Pleistocene of Florida”

Florida State Geological Survey 1916

The Stupidity of Answers-in-Genesis

September 15, 2011

I’m sorry I’m opening this week’s blog entry with a photograph of the republican presidential candidates instead of something like a photo of a giant ground sloth fossil.  Actually, a dead ground sloth would make a better president than any of the big business puppets running for the 2012 presidential election.  Rick Perry, cowboy redneck, will probably be our next president.  Just what we need–another really bad president from Texas.  Some liberals are in panic while other are in denial.  I don’t see what the big difference is between him and Obama.  Obama has been a center right president; Perry will be an ultra-right president.  Whoopee!  That difference doesn’t inspire me to vote.  All the republican presidential candidates with the exception of John Huntsman, who polls less than 1%, professed a disbelief in the science of evolution and anthropogenic global warming, throwing red meat to their mentally-challenged base.

Roughly half of the American people prefer to believe ancient story-tellers over modern scientists.  They think the earth is 6,000 years old and God created it in 6 days and anybody who disagrees with them is an immoral fascist/socialist on the road to perdition.  Yet, if they fall ill, they don’t consult an 11th century physicians manual.  They go running to the nearest modern medical professional.  I suppose if believing in evolution was a life or death decision, there would be more believers.

Recently, all of the real presidential contenders for the republican nomination considered it necessary to profess a disbelief in the fundamental basis of all biological science.  I doubt they honestly disbelieve science.  Instead, they’re appealing to an uneducated segment of society with an unfortunate belief system.  Scientific ignorance has become politically tied to the republican’s other twisted talking points such as cutting taxes, deregulation, and hostility to the government.  Conservatives have so successfully shouted down liberals that democratic politicians also promise to cut taxes, deregulate, and carry on expensive, unnecessary wars of aggression against brown-skinned people, even though those are the policies that created our current economic doldrums.  The U.S. is such a gullible nation.

The Reverend Ken Ham is a snake oil salesman profitting from this gullibility.  He founded the Creation Museum in Kentucky.  He charges $20 admission, but most of the workers there are unpaid volunteers who must sign a vow that they believe in a literal translation of the bible.  In addition to his for profit museum he’s selling ridiculous anti-science propaganda to churches, mostly in the U.S.  He must be raking in millions annually.  When perusing his fodder for the bible-thumpers who want their ignorance reinforced with likeminded rubbish, it doesn’t take long to discover the absurdity of his claims.

Replica of a T. Rex skull fossil.  Ken Ham believes T. Rex was a plant-eater, until Eve convinced Adam to eat the apple.  The first sin is what forced some animals to become carnivores after they were all thrown out of paradise.  One look at a T. Rex’s teeth debunks the claim that it ever ate plants because they’re absolutely unsuited to a plant-based diet.  Some creationists claim the flood caused the extinction of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, but not Ken Ham.  He insists on biblical accuracy, and the bible says Noah put an example of every living animal on the Ark.  It was only after the flood that dinosaurs became extinct, so he insists dinosaurs co-existed with man, at least for awhile, despite the total lack of fossil evidence for the overlap.  And a lack of archaeological evidence as well.  Surely, the natives would have collected T. Rex bones.

One quote from Reverend Ham makes it evident he’s never read a geology textbook.  He stated, “there’s no evidence whatsoever that the world and its fossil layers are millions of years old.”  No evidence?  Why do almost all, if not all, professional geologists believe the world is 4.6 billion years old?  Would they believe that with no evidence?  Here’s a brief summary of the evidence that the earth is older than 6,000 years old.

1. Dendrochronology–shows earth’s at least 10,000 years old.

2. Ice Core data–shows earth’s at least hundreds of thousands of years old.

3. Varves–show earth;s at least’ millions of years old.

4. Coral reefs–one’s 130,000 years old.

5. Astronomers measure the galaxy as 100,000 light years across.  Visible starlight is that old.

6. Rates of Continental drift–suggest earth’s at least millions of years old.

7.  Analysis of the Geological Column which is consistent with the fossil record.  For example part of the Rocky Mountains rests over a massive fossil coral reef that itself took millions of years to grow.  Why would God hide a fossil coral reef under the Rocky Mountains?  No mammal fossils are found in Coal age deposits.  No dinosaur fossils are found in Pleistocene deposits, etc.

8. The radiometric age of some minerals on earth is 4.1 billion years old.

9. The ratio of Lead isotope decay from samples of earth and meteorites is consistent with a 4.6 billion year old earth.

10. The oldest age determination of meteorites are all consistently between 4.4 and 4.6 billion years old.

Creationist arguments against these points mostly consist of either God made it look that way or that scientists base their assumptions on such things as the speed of light and the freezing point of water have always remained the same.  Yes, those are assumptions, but I think they’re pretty safe assumptions.  For the above points to be in error, it would take many drastic changes in the known laws of physics.  Creationists might dispute this evidence, but for Ken Ham to claim there is no evidence whatsoever proves he ignores real science.

One of the biggest fraudulent claims creationists often make is that there are no transitional fossils.  There are literally thousands of transitional fossils.  Because evolution is an ongoing process, all organisms can be considered transitional, but the fossil record also clearly shows a progression of speciation with transitional characteristics.  The fossil record of the horse is a good example, and creationists recognize this and attack the science with many unfounded criticisms.  I found a series of articles written for answers-in-genesis  by a Presbyterian minister who questioned evidence supporting horse evolution.  I believe Peter Hastie wrote all three of the following articles, though he only signed his name to one.  They are: “Horse find defies evolution,” “Horse nonsense,” and “What happened to the horse?”   So we have a case of Presbyterian minister going against paleontologists and vertebrate zoologists.  All three articles consist of falsehoods and gross misunderstandings of evolution.

Artist’s depiction of eohippus, or hyracotherium, also known as the dawn horse.

In “Horse nonsense” Peter Hastie makes the bizarre claim that Eohippus was actually related to the rabbit, not the horse.  As the above artist’s depiction indicates, the dawn horse greatly resembles a horse, not a rabbit.  (He didn’t use a scientific name but he wrote cony which is another common term for rabbit.  Maybe he meant hyrax.  It bares no resemblance to a hyrax either.)  He claims there is no sound evidence linking the dawn horse with the modern horse, but evidentally, professional scientists do, and any layman looking at the picture can see the great similarity.  Hastie also rejects horse evolution because horse fossils are found in different localities.  He claims it is circular reasoning to use horse fossils from different species collected from differenct localities.  He demands a fossil site that shows the entire evolutionary history of the horse in successive stages.  I don’t quite understand why he considers this circular reasoning, but I suppose, if there was one fossil locality that had every complete fossil of every horse species that ever lived in successive ages, he’d still find an excuse to reject it.   Constructing an evolutionary tree is like putting the pieces of a puzzle together when the pieces are located in different rooms of a house.  I wouldn’t call that circular reasoning.

In “Horse fossil defies evolution” Hastie demonstrates that he doesn’t really understand evolution.  He refers to an article from National Geographic Magazine about a fossil site in Nebraska.  He doesn’t even mention the name of the fossil site–an unscholarly omission–but I’m certain the article’s about the famous Ashfall fossil site.  Hastie thinks he’s disproven the evolution of the horse because extinct species of both one and three-toed horses were found at the site, showing they lived at the same time.  He thinks this is evidence that one-toed horses could not have evolved from three-toed horses.  To put it bluntly, his reasoning is just stupid.  Evolution doesn’t occur in a neat linear models.  Instead, it is more comparable to a bush upon which different branches can exist at the same time, although they all originated from the same trunk.  One species doesn’t necessarily evolve into another and then suddenly become extinct itself.  Speciation usually occurs in geographically isolated populations which can later colonize regions where their ancestors still live.  There are many extant species today that coexist with their ancestral species.  Fish crows (Corvus ossifragus) evolved from common crows (Corvus brachyrhyncos) and both coexist today, sometimes in the same habitat.

Bruce Macfadden’s chart of horse evolution.  Note it’s more like a bush than a linear line, as incorrectly depicted in old science textbooks.

In “What happened to the horse?” Hastie makes several false or unsubstantiated claims.  First, he states that a fossil of eohippus was found in the same sedimentary strata as that of a modern horse, and he rejects the scientific explanation that the older fossil was reworked by claiming there’s no evidence of geological activity that would cause reworking of an older fossil into younger strata.  I have no way of checking this claim because he doesn’t cite the scientific article he gleaned this bit of information from.  He also gives no scientific reason why he rejects the possibility of reworking.  He’s a Presbyterian minister, not a geologist, so he has no qualification or knowledge to make this kind of judgement.  Second, he claims horse evolution is contradicted by genetic evidence.  This is false.   The only genetic studies of horse evolution merely suggest the number of Pleistocene horse species is much fewer than previously thought from what scientists had gathered from fossil evidence.  Scientists already agree there was only one genus of horse in the Pleistocene.  I researched this topic and could find no genetic studies of Pliocene or Miocene horses.  Third, he states the lineage of horse evolution was debunked 40 years ago.  Again, this is false.  Scientists noted that the original model of horse evolution as depicted in textbooks was an incorrect oversimplification.  Scientists still accept the evolution of the horse beginning with the dawn horse and ending with the modern horse.  They simply corrected the original model which incorrectly showed a neat linear progression and included dead-end species no longer believed to be directly ancestral to modern horses.

This is the evolution of the horse toe bone.  There’s a reason why creationists attack this with such ferocity.  It’s good evidence of evolution.