61st Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Meeting (2001 archives)

Special Mt. Blanco Report of the 61st Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Meeting

Report of the
61st Meeting of SVP

by Don Ensign, Mt. Blanco Associate Manager

The 61st Annual Meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology was held October 3-6, 2001 on the campus of Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana. Joe Taylor, Charles Sanders and I were there representing the Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum. Our primary focus was to monitor themes consistent with a creation science position. It was my first major paleontology conference. My overall general impression was that this field is a vital and growing scientific discipline.

The event was divided into two major sections. The first were paper presentations read concurrently in several different rooms. These papers were read at 15 minute intervals from 8 AM until 5:30 PM with morning, lunch and afternoon breaks during the four day conference. The second major unit of the conference were the Poster Sessions, which consisted of a large room filled with rows of movable partitions. Elaborate “posters” are like scientific papers that are attached to the partition walls. The posters often contained detailed descriptions, high quality graphics, charts, photos and conclusions explaining the significance of each report. At least one of the authors of each poster was suppose to be on hand to personally interact with interested parties. The poster session proved to be the most interesting aspect of the conference foe me. The conference abstract booklet lists 235 papers and 281 posters.

The papers and the posters often shared common themes. For instance, a series of papers were on groups of dinosaurs such as sauropods, theropods, ceratopians and others often were accompanied by poster presentations. Ancient marine reptiles and pterosaurs received attention as well as hominids, ancient mammals, amphibians and fish. There was considerable attention given to birds and their supposed ancestry from reptiles. Perhaps the most entertaining paper given concerned a bizarre fossil reptile called Longisquama. The presenters of this paper set forth the idea that strange strips of skin extending from the animal’s body were not feathers. After the paper was read a gentleman in the audience found this contention contentious and vigorously argued that the structures were indeed feathers. However such moments of drama were rare and most of the papers were rewarded with polite applause.

Technical innovations in the field were noted and a full symposium was dedicated to fossil preparation. Other papers were on tomographic x-ray analysis, bone paleohistology, and global positioning system (GPS) for mapping dig sites. Numerous papers were given on the discovery of individual fossil specimens with special attention to their supposed cladistic and evolutionary significance. The emphasis on cladograms and phylogenetic speculations and over-specialized terminology added significant tedium to many presentations.

I was looking for two lines of evidence consistent with a creation science/catastropist evaluation of the fossil record. The first is rapid burial for preservation of fossils. Rapid burial insures the preservation of fragile items such as skin, tissue and footprints, not to mention bones. Second, if there was a global flood as described in Genesis, we should have large masses of plants and animals buried together. One would than expect mass extinction areas or large fossil graveyards to be common occurrences.

Interestingly, the papers and posters at this year’s SVP annual meeting presented an array of remarkable finds in these areas.

Rapid Burial

Lu Junchang and Wang Xiaolin report using a scanning electronic microscope (SEM) to investigate soft tissue from a pterosaur found in western Liaoning Province of China (Cretaceous group). The SEM results revealed “very thin, short impressions of integument derivatives” cloistered thickly around the neck. There were “clear integument” between the toes similar to the webbing of ducks feet. Elastic fibers existed on the surface and near the margins of the wing membranes. Possible blood vessels were found on the internal elastic fibers. (10)

R. Coria, L.M. Chiappe and G. Negro report finding dozens of sauropod dinosaur in ovo skin patches from northwestern Patagonia (Cretaceous group). These patches, some several square centimeters in size, were found on the sauropod egg fragments. The embryonic integuments are made of non-overlapping tubercles which have distinctive shapes. The ground tubercles are irregular and apically projecting polygons. There are also larger tubercles that form parallel rows and flower- like tubercle arrangements. These embryonic integument patterns differ from the adult sauropod which have large, polygonal tubercles on a pebbled surface. (3) Extremely rapid birial would be required to preserve these features.

The same Auca Mahuevo Argentine site produced the first sauropod dinosaur(titanosaur) nesting structures. The irregular-shaped, egg filled depressions, are about 1.0-1.5 meters in diameter. According to the report, “Green, fissile mudstone fills the interior and instertital spaces between eggs, which lack any apparent spatial arragement.”(sic) These egg-filled depressions are thought to be excavated nests. “Entombment of the eggs by finner(sic)-grained muddy sediment during subsequent flooding provides the lithologic contrast necessary to recognize these  structures, and suggests the eggs were not buried by the animal in the substrate.” (6)

In another report L.M. Chiappe et al update accounts from previous years about the same Patagonian site. According to this recent report “dozens of in ovo sauropod” (titanosaurs) with “exquisitely preserved skulls”  and thousands of egg clutches were discovered. Some of the egg beds extend laterally for several kilometers with “concentration of egg clutches?approximately 5 clutches/100 square meters in average.” (2)

Flood geologists are presented with a real problem at this site. These egg clutches were distributed at a minimum of four stratigraphic layers. A similar occurence is described in a report from Chullanam province of Korea where possible sauropod and ornithopod dinosaur and turtle eggs and clutches are found on “at least five different stratigraphic levels.” (17)

While these egg clutches do show the process of rapid burial they also show that several sequential rapid burials occurred. Did the Genesis Flood transgress and regress several times in one area allowing successive dinosaur egg laying communities to form and be buried? Michael Oard has addressed this question and has suggested two possible mechanism,  “vertical tectonics of newly deposited Flood sediments and a sea level drop due to rapid current circulating clockwise on a large shallow continent. ” (12)  It seems that these mechanisms would occur several times during the Flood to allow the stratigraphically separated egg clutches to happen. However, this problem probably needs more work.

===Joe Taylor’s Comments:  Oard’s well-taken position still has a few problems.  One, it was raining, from the beginning of the Flood till all was drowned.  It is possible that these multiple layers represent sand storms in the years before the Flood.  Or like one paleontologist told me, they may have made their nests all at the same time on hilly surfaces, and were all buried at the same time.

From the Mooreville Chalk Formation in Alabama comes a report of an amniote egg with a embryonic ornithischian dinosaur. This egg was preserved in a site representing “fully marine conditions.” It is theorized that the egg dropped from the “bloated and floating body of a gravid female.” (8) This is consistent with the concept of dead and floating bodies of animals in a global flood situation.

The supposed oldest bird tracks in China have been found in the Tu Cheng Zi Formation, Liaoning Province. The Tu Cheng Zi Formation, formerly believed to be middle or late Jurassic, lays stratigraphically under the Yixian Formation that have produced the so-called feathered dinosaurs, Sinosauropteryx, Caudipteryx and Protarchaeopteryx. Recent fission track dates gives the age of 146.9 4.8 Ma.(millions of years)  Martin Lockley et al indicate this may have been a “shore-bird like species.” (9)

In another report on the preservation of soft body tissue in theropod dinosaurs several interesting items were presented. An Ornithomimus from the Dinosaur Park Formation of Alberta, Canada and a Gallimimus from the Nemegt formation at Tsaagan Khuushu, Mongolia both have a “beak like structure at the buccal margins of the premaxilla and dentary.”  This latter specimen displays lamellae on the beak, like those of modern ducks. This structure may have also allowed the animal to display straining behavior.The third dinosaur is a dromaeosaur from the Yixian formation in China whose entire body was covered with three types of integumentary fibers. The fibers were most notable on the back of the forearm and “show a herring bone pattern like that of the feathers of Caudipterpx.” M.A. Norell and his fellow authors conclude, “The integumentary covering shows that feather-like structures were present before the origin of modern birds and their evolutionary origin can not be correlated with the origin of flight.” (11)

While the last part of this statement is true—as seen above (the Tu Cheng Zi bird track account), even using evolutionary criteria, birds existed before this integument covered dromaeosaur.

Fossil Mass Burial Sites

From the Ulansuhui formation(Cretaceous group) in the Nei Mongol Autonomous Region, China members of the Mongol Highland International Project report finding nearly 12 complete and “beautifully preserved” ornithomimid dinosaur skeletons. They were collected  “from an area of 10 square meters, representing the first record of a high density accumulation” of these dinosaurs.  “The single horizon contains only one species of ornithomimid with different ontogenetic stages preserved, suggesting that the group may have been a (sic) killed catastrophically.” Gastroliths were also found within each articulated ribcage. (7)

Single species bone beds are presented at the Mother’s Day Site(Jurassic group) in Carbon County, Montana. So far, out of “all the hundreds of elements recovered”, only juvenile Diplodocus dinosaurs have been found. These fossil remains are found in “fine grain mudstone” which according to the report represents an “ancient mudplain.” This is based on lithology and taphomony data. Some of the limb bones have “a vertical to sub vertical orientation” and numerous complete and articulated manus and pes indicate some of the individual animals in the deposit may have been mired before death. Diagrams of the bones “some degree of current flow running northwest/southeast prior to lithification in the sediment.” This current is likely to have been of “low energy” because of some articulated bones such as a “string of six distal most caudal vertebrae.” Also found at this site are numbers of small pebbles (possibly gastroliths) the first ever associated with young sauropod dinosaurs. (15)

A similar setting is described from the Javelina Formation (Cretaceous group) in Big Bend Park, Texas. The site is the first bonebed containing remains of only the juvenile sauropod dinosaur, Alamosaurus. The deposit setting is described as a shallow lake. These bones, from at least three individuals, were dispersed through a two meter interval. “Many limb bones have high angle plunges that in extreme instances approach vertical. This bone orientation pattern, the contorted nature of the entombing sediments, and the suggestion of large sauropod footprints at the upper contact of the bone-bearing unit suggests that this site experienced bioturbation (dinoturbation) probably by adult sauropods.” (4) Could larger animals have trampled smaller ones while trying to flee a catastropic event?

A site in the Chanares Formation(Triassic group) in Argentina presents taphonomic evidence of mass mortality. This location has 100 individuals representing a diverse number of taxa (archosaurs, cynodonts, dicynodonts) “entombed in concretions with matrices of relic glass shards diagenetically replaced by Calcite.” Both adults and juvenile animals were found “entombed within early diagenetic concretion and were safeguarded from subsequent destructive pedogenic and/or digenetic processes,…” The authors’ comment, “… it is feasible that volcanism led to catastrophic flooding of the landscape via damming and/or diversion of local drainages.” (14)

A different type of flooding event is proposed for Middle Paddock, in the mid Viscan Ducabrook Formation, Queensland, Australia. A single fossiliferous unit contains isolated, disarticulated and size-sorted elements of Chondrichthyes, Gyracanthides, Actinopterygii, Rhizodonitormes, Dipnoi and Tetrapoda.  These remains have varying degrees of fragmentation, weathering and abrasion.  The researcher concludes, “Although the taxa may have have co-existed, the individuals represented in the assemblage were sampled from temporally disparate communities. Predation, subaerial exposure and transport by strong river currents had a substantial impact upon the remains. They were finally deposited by a twin-peaked high magnitude storm-induced flood event.” (13)

Other flood-related evidence was found in the following three reports. The National Park Service is conducting, through the Natural Resources Preservation Program, a 3-year project to prospect and document fossil bone beds in the Scenic member of the Brule Formation(Oligocene group) in South Dakota’s Badlands National Park. During the first year(2000) of this project 351 new sites were found with 231 “scientifically important specimens” collected. One bone bed known as the “Pig Dig” contained at least 8 taxa “and a great abundance of elements that occur en masse.” This site was attributed most likely to “a catastrophic event” because of the “articulation on many specimens.” Other locations like the Brian Machius and Buffalo Alley sites contain even greater taxonomic diversity with high degrees of disarticulation. “The Brian Machius site is an attritional assemblage, owing to carnivory. The Buffalo Alley site is more typical of Badlands flood plain, attritional bonebeds found throughout the park.” (1)

The Swan Lake Quarries of the White River Formation(Oligocene group) in Converse County , Wyoming is starting to yield a “richly fossiliferous” lake deposit over a 2 km2 area. There are four meters of interbedded limestones, shales, bentonites and mudstones that make up the lake sediments.  The limestone and shales contain “prolific leaf, stem, roots, seeds and pollen plant material.”  There are “millions of gastropods and pelecypods” in 18 separate limestone lenses. Vertebrate mammals, fish and birds are found in the mudstone and limestone in two different quarry sites. “Local stratigraphy with volcanic ash beds allow lateral correlation of the Swan Lake deposits to one of the richest mammal and reptile localities in North America with thousands of recorded specimens.” Phytolith and pollen studies of the “teeth and stomach contents of excellent mammal skeletons” yield information on the diets of the herbivores. (16)

Scientists working at eastern Oregon’s John Day Fossil Beds National Monument are striving to complete an ambitious project. Widely distributed deposits of abundant plant and animal fossils from hundreds of locations in eastern Oregon are being “correlated…, now provide more precisely comparable and laterally variable interbasin depositional environments that can be ordered chronologically.”   The linking of various fossil areas such as the John Day region, the Owyhee region, the Northeast Basin and sites near the ancestral Cascades “insures the accurate tracking of “staggered” processes and events in multiple local paleoenvironmental settings.”  (5)

These are just some of the fascinating reports of new fossil finds that should prompt creation scientists and flood geologists who are interested in fossils to attend events like the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology annual meeting.

Additional Notes From Joe Taylor

Oxygen isotopes research projects were abundant. This is a testing method just now getting notice. Creationists need to get more involved in this. Electron scanning microscopes are a great tool. Mark Armitage has just published his work on a piece of T-rex bone we got from a Wyoming museum. Aside from the talks on cladograms almost all of the papers at the SVP were excellent information for creationists/catastrophists.

Some of the data challenges some views held by creationists. This is mostly due to lack of information. Again, that is the benefit of this papers.

Of course, in every paper, one has to look for the facts and actual data and separate that from the insistent mixing of evolution theory which is so pervasive in the scientific community.

I look at it like Santa Claus. The gifts are real, the candy and apples in the stockings are real, but though all the adults insist that Santa provided them, only the youngest children believe it. When one can look at scientific research that way, the “Santa” and the hard data are easily separated.

Lastly cadograms, As Don related, some of the paleontologists, mostly the younger ones, really out do themselves with big words accurately and rapidly spoken and with such a nonchalant tone that one would think the information were “old hat” and commonly accepted by all.

Cladograms are elaborate graphs created to convince others of things which have not been found, aren’t known, and probably won’t be.

By this method you can get a fish to turn into a big cat-like dog creature, crawl out on land, crawl back into the water and become a whale. During the popular sessions when some young guy began his cladogram sleight-to-hand, I left and went to another room to try and catch something of more value.

(1) Black, S. A.., Herbel, C.L., Benton, R.C., Bone Beds in the Lower Scene Member, Brule Formation (Oligocene), Badlands National Park, South Dakota,  Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Vol. 21, Supplement to Number 3, September 2001, Abstract of Papers, p. 34A(2) Chialle, L.M., Coria, R., Dingus, L., Salgado, L.,Jackson, F., Titanosaur Eggs and Embryos from Auca  Mahuevo (Patagonia, Argentina): Implications for Sauropod Reproductive Behavior,  Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Vol. 21, Supplement to Number 3, September 2001, Abstract of Papers, p. 40A

(3) Coria, R., Chialle, L.M., Negro, G., Sauropod Embryonic Integument From Auca Mahuevo (Late Cretaceous)Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Vol. 21, Supplement to Number 3, September 2001, Abstract of Papers, p. 42A

(4) Fiorillo, A. R., Montgomery, H., Depositional Setting and Paleoecological Significance of a New Sauropod Bonebed in the Javelina Formation (Cretaceous) of Big Bend Park, TexasJournal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Vol. 21, Supplement to Number 3, September 2001, Abstract of Papers, p. 49A

(5) Fremd, T.J., Assemblages and Interbasin Correlations in the Pacific NorthwestJournal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Vol. 21, Supplement to Number 3, September 2001, Abstract of Papers, p. 52A

(6) Garrido, A.C., Chialle, L.M., Jackson, F., Schmitt, J., Dingus, L., First Sauropod Nest StructuresJournal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Vol. 21, Supplement to Number 3, September 2001, Abstract of Papers, pp. 52A-53A

(7) Kobayashi, Y., Lu,J.,Azuma,Y., Dong, Zhiming, Barsbold, R., Bonebed of a New Gastrolith-Bearing Orthomimid Dinosaur From The Upper Cretaceous Ulansuhai Formation of  Nei Mongol Autonomous Region, ChinaJournal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Vol. 21, Supplement to Number 3, September 2001, Abstract of Papers, pp. 68A-69A

(8) Lamb, J.P., Jr., Dinosaur Egg with Embryo from the Cretaceous (Campanian) Mooreville Chalk Formation, AlabamaJournal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Vol. 21, Supplement to Number 3, September 2001, Abstract of Papers, p. 70A

(9) Lockley, M., Matsukawa, M.,Wright, J., White, D., Li Jianjun, Bird Tracks from the Jurassic-Cretaceous Boundary, Liaoning Province, ChinaJournal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Vol. 21, Supplement to Number 3, September 2001, Abstract of Papers, pp. 73-74A

(10) Lu Junchang, Wang Xiaolin, Soft Tissue in an Early Cretaceous Pterosaur from Liaoning Province, ChinaJournal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Vol. 21, Supplement to Number 3, September 2001, Abstract of Papers, p. 74A

(11) Norell, M.A., Makovicky, P. J.,Currie, P.J., Ab Toj oyo, Ji Q., Three Cases of Soft Tissue preservation in Theropod Dinosaurs: Changing Our Perception of Theropod AppearanceJournal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Vol. 21, Supplement to Number 3, September 2001, Abstract of Papers, pp. 83A-84A

(12) Oard, M..J. A New Discovery of Dinosaur Eggs and Embryos in West Central ArgentinaCreation Ex Nihilio Technical Journal, 13(2) 1999, pp. 3-4

(13) Parker, K. E., Australian Lower Carboniferous Tetrapod Site: Taphonomy and GeologyJournal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Vol. 21, Supplement to Number 3, September 2001, Abstract of Papers, p. 87A

(14) Rogers, R.R., Arrucci, A. B. Abdala, Taphonomy of the Chanares Formation Tetrapods (Triassic, Argentina): Spectacular Preservation in Volcanogenic ConcretionsJournal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Vol. 21, Supplement to Number 3, September 2001, Abstract of Papers, p. 94A

(15) Storrs, G., Garcia, W.J., Preliminary Analysis of a Monospecific Sauropod Locality from Carbon County, MontanaJournal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Vol. 21, Supplement to Number 3, September 2001, Abstract of Papers, p. 105A

(16) Sundell, K., Preliminary Paleoecology of the Swan Lake Quarries: An Orellan Plant, Invertebrate and Vertebrate bearing Lake deposit from the White River Formation, Converse County, WyomingJournal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Vol. 21, Supplement to Number 3, September 2001, Abstract of Papers, p. 106A

(17) Zelenitsky, D.K., Hun Min, Preliminary Report on the First Dinosaur Nesting Site from the Cretaceous of KoreaJournal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Vol. 21, Supplement to Number 3, September 2001, Abstract of Papers, p. 117A


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