Evolution Icon Evolution
Paleontology Icon Paleontology

Fossil Follies from Around the Science Literature

Evolution News
Photo: White Sands National Park, by uncredited NPS employee, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Darwin knew that the fossil record did not support his theory of gradual increase in complexity through time but hoped that new fossil discoveries would fill in the narrative. 170 years of collecting has not helped. The Cambrian explosion is perhaps the best-known mismatch, but there are others. Adding to the difficulty, different dating methods often conflict with each other.

Monkeying with the Data

It would have been convenient for evolutionists if Africa and South America had split after monkeys had evolved, but they didn’t. This left them with klutzy explanations of how Old World monkeys evolved in Africa after the split, and then got to South America to become New World monkeys. The common story now is that they rafted over on vegetation across the Atlantic — a curious speculation, considering that sea captains these days never witness monkey families rafting out in the mid-Atlantic without fresh water or food. 

In PNAS, Campbell et al. manage to pull widely different dates for two sites in eastern Peru closer together. They had to struggle, though, with disagreements between different dating methods for nearby sites. In any case, their work did not help get the monkeys across the ocean. Peru is very far inland from Brazil where a raft might have washed ashore, so time for migration must be factored in. Watching the evolutionists monkeying with the data and hiding their difficulties with euphemisms (“trans-Atlantic dispersal”) is entertaining if not pitiful.

Though anthropoids are rare in the Santa Rosa paleofauna, they are of outsized importance, as they potentially represent the oldest records of that clade in South America, and their inferred age would constrain scenariosfor the timing of the trans-Atlantic dispersal of stem platyrrhines from Africa. [Emphasis added.]

Footprints in the White Sands of Time

Speaking of America, evolutionary anthropologists will have to drastically revise the timeline of the first human arrivals in North America with the discovery of tens of thousands of human footprints, mostly of teenagers, at White Sands National Park, New Mexico. The problem is that they are being dated at 23,000 years old — about 40 percent earlier than the previous maximum date of 16,500 years for the time in which modern humans from Asia are thought to have crossed a land bridge at the Bering Strait into Alaska. (Note, too, that New Mexico is an additional 4,000 miles from the Bering Strait.) Bennett and Reynolds from Bournemouth University in the UK describe this upset in The Conversation — an upset in time as well as in expected behavior for products of evolution.

We tend to picture our ancestors engaged in life-or-death struggles — forced to battle the elements simply to survive. Yet the White Sands evidence is suggestive of a playful, relatively relaxed setting, with teenagers and children spending time together in a group.

Philosophically speaking, until now it was textbook truth that our species arrived in America not more than 16,500 years ago. If the radiocarbon dates of seeds found around the footprints are correct, the truth has evolved. When truth evolves, many connected concepts must also evolve.

The White Sands footprints provide unequivocal evidence that people were in the Americas at the height of the last glacial maximum, rather than some time after, as was previously thought. That’s a big deal for our understanding of the peopling of the Americas and the genetic composition of indigenous Americans.

The research has been published in Science by Bennett et al., “Evidence of humans in North America during the Last Glacial Maximum.” The BBC News quotes other researchers who are flummoxed by the findings. Gary Haynes at the University of Nevada calls the tracks “provocative” since they are so far south of the Bering land bridge. Does it imply that other people crossed even earlier? Did they move across the continent quickly? Where are their descendants? Dr. Andrea Manica at the University of Cambridge is even more confused.

“I can’t comment on how reliable the dating is (it is outside my expertise), but firm evidence of humans in North America 23,000 years ago is at odds with the genetics, which clearly shows a split of Native Americans from Asians approximately 15-16,000 years ago,” he told BBC News.

“This would suggest that the initial colonists of the Americas were replaced when the ice corridor formed and another wave of colonists came in. We have no idea how that happened.

Another Instant Cambrian Predator

As noted here already, a large radiodont (related to the Cambrian predator Anomalocaris) was reported by Caron and Moysiuk in Royal Society Open Science. Named Titanokorys gainesi, it was found in the Marble Canyon area which is older than the Burgess Shale by 100,000 years. It dates at 508 million years. Titanokorys had a large head shield or carapace, raptorial appendages for digging or grasping prey, and teeth surrounding a circular mouth. Larger than some other similar species, this one could have reached 50 cm in length. Live Science shows a rotating artist conception of the impressive “helmet-headed sea monster” which was apparently a well-equipped swimming predator. The ease with which reporters ascribe magical powers to evolution needs serious correction. 

Life existed on Earth long before the Cambrian, but during the early part of that period — about 541 million to 530 million years ago — animal bodies got weird. During this boom time for evolution, known as the Cambrian explosion, species evolved and diversified at an unparalleled pace, producing creatures with daggerlike tails; spiny arms; Swiss-army-knife heads; mouths full of needles; and bodies that were so densely covered with bristles they resembled kitchen brushes.

Comb jellies (ctenophores) are also aggravating Darwin’s dilemma. Three scientists writing in The Conversation describe new specimens from Utah that are more complex than ones living today! Then they raise the hypothesis that these complex animals, with nerves, rows of bioluminescent cilia and muscles, are the first animals before sponges. After acknowledging the Cambrian explosion, they say of the Precambrian,

Before then, animals were very simple and largely microscopic, but in the geological blink of an eye, most of the modern phyla of animals (metazoans) appeared, including arthropods, molluscs and vertebrates.Ctenophores have long been thought to be near the base of the animal tree of life, resembling other primitive forms such as cnidarians (corals and jellyfish). Sponges look primitive because they lack a nervous system and organized tissues, and they only have a few cell types.

Ctenophores and cnidarians, despite their relative simplicity, are much more complex than sponges, so it was traditionally assumed that sponges were at the absolute base of the animal family tree — the “sponges-first hypothesis.”

However, some recent genomic studies have proposed that comb jellies are actually even lower on the family tree than sponges, a “ctenophores-first” hypothesis. This radical idea remains highly controversial because sponges have been assumed to be more primitive than ctenophores for more than 150 years.

Whoops, Wrong Date

For the last instance of fossil follies, an embarrassing retraction was made in the Darwinist literature that is quite comical in the scope of its correction. Not long ago, science news outlets were announcing a phenomenal find of animal burrows 1.2 billion years old — 400 million years older than the previous multicellular animal known, and nearly twice as old as the Ediacaran organisms that preceded the Cambrian explosion. Writing in New Scientist, reporter Jason Arunn Murugesu announces that the “Mystery of ancient burrows older than earliest animals has been solved.” 

By comparing the samples to other rocks and fossils in the area, and uranium-lead dating the minerals found in the burrows, the team estimated the holes were made 40 to 50 million years ago. The team found that the sandstone had subsequently hardened due to the arid conditions of the region, giving the impression that the burrows had been made much earlier than they actually were.

From 1.2 billion to 50 million years: that is some error! A correction this large, swinging from the Paleocene to the Eocene at the other end of the geological column, raises questions about scientists’ ability to interpret trace fossils. 

What should astound observers even more is the credulity of many scientists and reporters who had accepted the earlier date. Anthony Shillito at the University of Oxford called this a Darwin victory after the fact by remarking that the correction “fits much better with our current understanding of early animal evolution.” Given the ability of evolutionists to fit any data to the prevailing Darwinian narrative, one can only wonder about the degree of that “current understanding” in the first place.