Dinosaur Nests and Tracks – During a World-Wide Flood?

Introduction:

Many honest Christians often wonder how certain features of the fossil record can be explained by a worldwide Noachian-style Flood as described in the Bible. One particularly common question has to do with dinosaur eggs and trackways within the fossil record.  How, in the middle of a huge global Flood, could dinosaurs be walking around leaving footprints and casually making nests and laying eggs?  Surely this must mean that the Flood was not really worldwide, but more likely a local Flood.  It must also mean that the fossil record most likely does in fact span enormous periods of time over hundreds of millions of years – that it could not have been created during a year-long Flood and its aftermath as the authors of the Bible seem to suggest.

At first approximation, these features might indeed seem very puzzling and quite concerning for those coming from a Biblical perspective. However, as one considers these features more closely, a very different picture emerges as to what what going on when these fossils were preserved. As far as I’ve been able to tell, it seems like dinosaur eggs actually lend greater support to the worldwide Flood model.  I certainly don’t see how dinosaur eggs definitively undermine this model as many suggest.

Dinosaur Eggs:

Dinosaur Nests and Egg Shells:

Consider, for example, certain general features of dinosaur eggs:

    • Of the hundreds of thousands of eggs that have been preserved in the fossil record it seems likely that over 99% of them contain no embryo.

    • Essentially all of the eggs that have been found were buried by water-born sediments around the world.

      • “Floodwaters, however, periodically inundated the floodplain (at Auca Mahueva, Argentina), and suspension settling of fine-grain sediments filled the remaining portion of the hatched eggs, thereby resulting in their preservation in the rock record. Exhumation and exposure of the eggs may have resulted in subsequent erosion. The multiple egg-bearing horizons in the study area record the periodicity of these events… The sedimentary sequences… represent fluvial deposition in a floodplain environment.” (Link)
    • Many examples of egg beds were laid as sediments were being actively deposited – to include striking examples of eggs within the same “nest” being deposited on multiple levels of sediment (see picture above).

    • Most egg clutches… occur in uniform and homogeneous mudstone facies that provide no sedimentological evidence of nest structure (Chiappe et al., 1999; Chapter 4). (Link)
    • Most asymmetrical eggs (eggs with a pointy end) were unexpectedly preserved with the pointy end pointed downward and the larger end pointed upward with a symmetrical inward or outward leaning orientation – consistent with being laid in semi-liquid sediment (like very watery mud).

    • Those eggs that are found with “hatch windows” often contain the shell fragments from the window within the egg itself – a feature not expected from hatched eggs where the shell fragments should be on the outside of the egg following hatching.

    • The overall arrangement of eggs in a nest with “hatch windows” is not disturbed as would be expected from the hatchlings moving the light eggshells around after hatching from their eggs.

    • Trackways of young or baby dinosaurs are extremely rare relative to adult trackways and the trackways that are found (of the adults) are generally found in lower sedimentary layers compared to the body fossils (Leonard Brand).

    • Extremely well preserved embryos from Auca Mahuevo (Argentina), to include the preservation of very delicate embryonic bones and skin, suggests very rapid burial in a supersaturated watery environment.

    • There is “no evidence of in situ organic matter or vegetation other than transported material” (Link) associated with dinosaur eggs. This is evidence of water sorting of all of the sediments associated with these eggs.
    • Commonly identified double layered egg shells suggesting the existence of a stressful environment worldwide (see discussion below).

Bernhart, Walter R., Dinosaur Nests Reinterpreted, CRSQ Vol 41 No 2 September 2004 ( Link )

Johns, Warren H., Dinosaur eggs and the post-Flood boundary, TJ 19(3) 2005 ( Link )

Jackson, Fraces D., Titanosaur Reproductive Biology: Comparison of the Auca Mahuevo Titanosaur Nesting Locality (Argentina), to the Pinyes Magaloolithus Nesting Locality (Spain), Ph.D. Dissertation, Montana State University, April, 2007 ( Link )

Now, I do recognize that embryos, though very rare, are sometimes identified (both within and outside of their eggs).  I’m also aware that they show fairly advanced development, to include fully formed skeletons and occasional teeth.   However, this is not entirely unexpected given the Biblical Flood model (on a worldwide scale).  As originally proposed by Leonard Brand (Link), cases are known were reptiles, like the Komodo Dragon for example, will withhold the laying of fertilized eggs until a more favorable opportunity arises or until they are put into very stressful conditions of “fight or flight”.  Of course, if eggs are held for too long before being laid, they will develop a “second shell” which suffocates the embryo.  Dinosaur eggs have often been found with such a double shell, suggesting that they were able to avoid laying their eggs for some time in the hopes of more favorable conditions.

Multilayered dinosaur eggshells are reported from Upper Cretaceous rocks of Asia, Europe, and North and South America (Dughi and Sirugue, 1958; Thaler, 1965; Erben, 1970; Sochava, 1971, Mohabey, 1984; Zhao et al., 1991; Vianey-Liaud et al., 1994; Powell, 1987; Zelenitsky and Hills, 1997; Ribeiro, 1999; Zhao et al., 2002)… Jackson et al. (2002) reported a multilayered fossil turtle egg from the Judith River Formation of Montana, and Schleich and Kästle (1988) reported multilayered gecko eggs from the Oligocene of Germany. Although present in a variety of fossil eggshell types, the multilayered condition is most frequently reported in the megaloolithid eggshell structure (Hirsch, 2001).

Erben et al., (1979) report that pathological conditions occur in 10% of eggshells in Upper Cretaceous rocks from France and the authors suggest a progressive, stratigraphically upward increase in these abnormalities as a result of changing climatic conditions. Similarly, Zhao et al., (2002) report a 56% and 74% frequency of pathological eggshells in the oospecies Macroolithus yaotunensis near the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary in two locations in the Nanxiong Basin, South China.

These and other attempts to link abnormal, multilayered eggshell to climate change and dinosaur extinction fail to consider the magnitude of geologic time associated with the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event. In extant animals, eggshell abnormalities may result from environmental stress related to overcrowding, drought, or substrate conditions (Ewert et al., 1984; Ferguson, 1982). Although acute stress may affect eggshell structure for a considerable time (Hughes et al., 1986; Solomon, 1997), this time interval (hours to weeks in birds and reptiles) is extremely short when compared to the much longer intervals of geologic time (≥ 102 -10years) associated with global climate change or the terminal Cretaceous extinction event (Dingus, 1984). (Link)

Healthy, well-adjusted chickens and marine turtles have only one layer of shell round their eggs. However, give chickens a hard time, says Sally Solomon of Glasgow university, and they react in a tell-tale way.

“They retain the eggs in the reproductive tract and, in retaining it, it either gets an extra coating of calcium or sometimes it actually shoots back up the reproductive tract and it gets an extra layer of shell,” she says.  “If you take a busload of tourists on to a beach when turtles are trying to come ashore to lay their clutches of eggs in the sand, they will abandon the process and move back into the sea. When they are in the sea, the eggs are held and an extra layer of calcium is laid down. So you end up with a very thick shell.”

What was true for birds and reptiles today must have been true for the ancestors of both birds and reptiles. When Frankie Johnson, a paleontologist working in Montana, sent her samples of eggs from fossil nests of Troodon, Professor Solomon recognized the symptoms immediately. The shells were double.

“It’s a huge step to say it’s stress in dinosaurs. But they must have had it, what with their world collapsing about them. Here we have a phenomenon common to dinosaurs, extant reptiles and birds. And we know for a fact that stress is instrumental in causing double shelled eggs in turtles, poultry and many wild birds.  Is it too big a step to suggest that dinosaurs, despite their size, also experienced stress? Those shells are abnormal: they were retained in the oviduct for longer than normal.  Why? What was there in that environment which was inclement? These are questions we are looking at.” (Link)

I’ve read counter arguments suggesting that dinosaurs were warm blooded and therefore could not retain their eggs for very long, but this is debatable and is essentially falsified by the fairly common finding of thickened or doubled dinosaur egg shells within the fossil record.

I’ve also read arguments where the suggestion is made that dinosaurs likely laid only one or two eggs per day.  Yet, this is clearly mistaken in many cases where there is evidence of many eggs being laid in a very symmetrical pattern within a very short period of time in one particular location.

Dinosaur Egg Soft Tissues:

As it turns out, dinosaur eggs also contain original soft tissues and proteins.  And, amazingly enough, there are several features within these soft tissues and proteins that favor a recent existence of dinosaurs.

Antigenic Proteins:

The full scientific paper is free to read online (Link), but for most it will be easier to read the New Scientist summary report which states: Protein recovered from dinosaur eggs (2005):

Traces of protein have survived for more than 70 million years in dinosaur eggs from Argentina. They bear strong similarities to proteins from chicken eggs. … The eggs were laid by massive long-necked plant-eaters called titanosaurs. Buried by floods, the eggs fossilised unusually fast, preserving the soft tissues and tiny bones within.

This paper goes on to explain that researchers injected rabbits with these apparent dinosaur egg proteins. The animals developed antibodies similar to those they produce in experiments with similar modern egg proteins (ostrich).

Dinosaur Eggs 2

Scanning electron micrographs of double-layered (pathological) sauropod eggshell in tangential section. (a) Tubercles (T) delineate the external surface. Preserved shell membrane (M) in between and separating the two layers of shell.

Of course the problem here is that kinetic chemistry experiments have long been cited as evidence that proteins and/or DNA sequences rapidly break down over time so that specific antigenicity cannot be retained.  For example, it has been proposed that no original protein and/or DNA fragments can be recovered beyond ca 100 kyr (Lindahl 1993; Bada et al. 1999; Briggs et al. 2000; Hoss 2000; Stankiewicz et al. 2000), although some remnant molecules or fragments that are less phylogenetically informative may persist up to this point under exceptional circumstances (Briggs et al. 2000). (Link). Others have argued that a “peptide bond has a half-life of 400 years” (Adv Exp Med Biol. 2009; 611: xci–xcviii). However, some proteins, such as collagen in particular, appear to have somewhat longer half-lives of ~2,000 years at ambient temperatures (Buckley, et al., 2008).

Clearly then, such proteins should not exist in dinosaur eggs that are supposed to be over 70 million years old. Later discoveries also showed original dinosaur proteins in fossil sauropod eggs and embryos from China,  said to be 190–197 million years old from the early Jurassic, showing that such preservation really has nothing to do with the location of the fossil within the geologic column.

These remains are currently “the oldest evidence of in situ preservation of complex organic remains in a terrestrial vertebrate… Our results clearly indicate the presence of both apatite and amide peaks within woven embryonic bone tissue, which should not be susceptible to microbial contamination or other post-mortem artefacts.” (Link).

This particular feature seems, therefore, to be much more consistent with the claims of the biblical authors and a recent arrival and sudden catastrophic death of dinosaurs within the fossil record.

Mary Schweitzer 2Of course, Mary Schweitzer has argued that iron from the blood protein heme could stabilize and cross-link proteins, allowing them to survive for many tens of millions of years (Link).  It seems, however, that Schweitzer is mistaken for many reasons.  First off, many specimens of recovered soft tissue are not associated with significant deposits of biological iron, such as original dinosaur proteins in skin and eggshells, and even in Archaeopteryx feathers. Further, of the typical decomposition factors (kinetic molecular vibrations, hydrolysis, chemotropism, microbes, cyclical temperatures, friction, oxidation, autolysis, and radioactive decay) iron works miracles for none of these and is irrelevant to a number of them..

 

RacemizationLeft-handed amino acids:

Like your right and left hands, some molecules are also right or left handed. And, almost all living things exclusively use left-handed amino acids to build proteins (and purely right-handed sugars to build DNA). However, amino acids synthesized in the lab appear in equal proportions of right- and left-handed molecules. What this means, of course, is that after the death of an organism, amino acids will “racemize” from a purely left-handed situation back to a 50-50 mixture of right- and left-handedness. 

England’s Royal Society published a time range for this physical process which, “produces totally racemized amino acids in 105 -106 years in most environments on the Earth.”  Even under more ideal conditions (i.e., very dry and cold conditions), “If no contaminants have been introduced to the system, based on the racemization half lives obtained from known age fossils, all amino acids should be totally racemized in < 5-10 million years in cold depositional environments. In temperate regions a racemic mixture of all amino acids would be in <1 million years.” (Link).

However, this same paper reports that, “In the dinosaur eggshells… all of the detected amino acids have low D:L ratios…” The authors go on to argue for “contamination” to explain this finding.

“The presence of relatively unracemized amino acids and abundant serine in our dinosaur eggshell samples indicates that the amino acids are exogenous contaminants which were added fairly recently based on the predominance of L-amino acids.” (Link)

It seems fairly strange to me, however, that such contamination should be so consistent and so universal. It is also strange that this “contamination” produces such similar antigenic responses as compared to modern egg proteins from eggs like ostrich eggs.  How does that rather specific type of contamination end up in these dinosaur eggs? The lack of contamination that enables the identification of original tissue is confirmed (by genetic sequencing, immunological tests, etc.) whereas the allegation of contamination of short-lived radiocarbon and non-racemized amino acids is usually not confirmed but only assumed by evolutionists who already know that these dinosaur remains are many tens of millions of years old.  Therefore, there is no need to do further testing to actually test the contamination hypothesis with any real scientific rigor. 

Radiocarbon:

Given the fairly recent discoveries of high levels of radiocarbon in the soft tissues of dinosaur bones (Link), the soft tissues within dinosaur eggs should also be tested for the presence of significant levels of radiocarbon as well.

Dinosaur Footprints:

Dinosaur footprints, as well as the fossilized footprints of other creatures, are also quite interesting when it comes to the question of a global Flood.  For example, it seems that many land animals, excluding birds and mammals, do not generally have their footprints located in the same layer in which their bodies are found, but in lower layers.  Did the footprints evolve before they did?  The footprints of dinosaurs, for example, are generally located in lower levels than the actual fossilized bones of the dinosaurs. Why would this be?  What is there to explain this apparent sorting of body from footprint fossils? Leonard Brand and James Florence comment on this most interesting phenomenon:

Dinosaur tracksIf the geologic column represents sediments that have accumulated over many millions of years, and the fossils from each geologic period are the remains of animals living in successive time periods, it would be reasonable to expect that the stratigraphic patterns of footprint diversity should roughly parallel the patterns of equivalent body fossil diversity. 

Leonard Brand and James Florence, Stratigraphic Distribution of Vertebrate Fossil Footprints Compared with Body Fossils – Origins 9(2):67-74, 1982 (Link)

Some have suggested various potential problems for this interpretation of Brand and Florence. However, these objections seem fairly well covered in the paper. I also discuss a few of these objections in detail in a Google Talk.Origins debate (Link).

 

A Complex Flood:

paleocurrents 3

 

Some imagine that a Noachian-style Flood would simply rise and fall in a uniformitarian manner around the globe. Well, that’s a far too simplistic view of such a world-wide deluge. The Flood was complex, not a uniform increase of water all over the globe.  It seems to me at least possible that land animals, like dinosaurs in particular, could have survived the initial months, or even the majority of the year-long Flood. 

Dinosaur Trackways 4paleocurrents 2As far as the complex nature of the Flood, consider that the sudden release of energy that cause the break-up of the Earth’s crust, continental drift, and the building of massive mountain ranges and ocean trenches, would have produced tsunamis thousands of feet tall traveling at hundreds of miles per hour around and around the globe, depositing massive amounts of sediment with each pass (Link).  Traces of the direction of these massive waves and the general movements of the water that laid down the sediment should still be visible today – and they are. Most, if not all, sedimentary layers around the world have ripple marks along their surfaces, indicating the direction of water flow, or the “paleocurrent” that laid down each layer.  And, interestingly, the direction of water flow is generally consistent, all around the world, for various layers within the geologic column. These continental, or even worldwide paleocurrents, all pointing in the same general direction for a given series of layers (Link) are much easier for a rather sudden catastrophic Flood model to explain.  It is also consistent with the idea that, before the Flood, there were no long chains of very high mountains. Otherwise, such world-wide paleocurrents across multiple continents could not have been produced.

But how could delicate eggs and footprints be so well preserved during such a catastrophic Flood?Well, consider that there would have been large tidal actions caused by the daily pull of the moon as the Earth continued to spin relative to the moon.  Every day, then, during the Flood, there would have been huge tidal movements of water.  As the tide “went out” from a particular location, there would be periods where dry ground would be exposed for a short while before before returning yet again and again with more and more sediment.  This nicely explains both the existence and very fine preservation of the footprints and trackways of dinosaurs and other creatures within the fossil record.

Summary:  

It seems clear then, from the evidence presented so far, that dinosaurs around the entire globe were really “stressed out” – especially toward the end of the Cretaceous when the Flood waters were starting to recede and massive algal blooms were exploding in the waters warmed by all the energy released during the Flood and packed with nutrients (Note: I personally consider the Tertiary layers to be post-Flood sedimentary layers).

Bioturbation (or the mixing of sedimentary layers by burrowing organisms), which was very much reduced prior to the Cretaceous (Link), was increasing back toward normal levels during the latter Cretaceous.  This is most likely because the energy and activity of the Flood and the thickness of the layers during the later Cretaceous period were reduced enough to allow for burrowing without the rapid deep burial of previously deposited sediments. Very rapid deposition of thick sedimentary layers would, of course, prevent burrowing organisms from disturbing the deeply buried layers – which is why there is very little bioturbation within most of the geologic column below the Cretaceous. And, of course, this is why much more extensive sediment reworking, or bioturbation, typifies many Late Cretaceous terrestrial localities – correspond to an increase in terrestrial, non-marine crustaceans and their traces during this time period, compared to pre-Cretaceous deposits (Walker and James 1992) (Link). 

Still, even during this later stage of the Flood, many struggling dinosaurs survived and retained their eggs as long as they could before laying them in haste during periods when the water retreated, only to be inundated shortly thereafter.  This allowed for the excellent preservation of the dinosaur eggs and even rare embryos.  There seems to be little good evidence for the actual hatching of eggs or for hatchlings disturbing nests or leaving footprints in the surrounding mud – which is very difficult to explain from a uniformitarian position. Rather, it seems like the eggs were consistently buried by episodic Flood waters before any further development of the embryos could be realized. Eventually, the last few surviving dinosaurs also died and were carried in the waters of the Flood for a while before also being buried in higher levels of sediment relative to their footprints.  And, these features are consistent around the entire world – supporting the world-wide nature of this watery catastrophe.

Also, it would seem that uniform and worldwide stress placed on dinosaurs would indicate some relationship to a single worldwide catastrophe to act as a universal stressing event – which would not be consistent with millions of years of uniformitarian conditions proposed by mainstream evolutionists.  The relatively short duration of a universal catastrophe is supported by the finding of preserved soft tissues and antigenically intact left-handed proteins within dinosaur eggs (shells and embryos) as well as dinosaur bones (to include fragments of DNA as well).  The survival of such soft tissues, proteins, and DNA fragments strongly suggests a recent and short period of time for the universal catastrophe that formed much of the fossil record and destroyed the dinosaurs and buried them in water-born sediments.  The fairly recent finding of significant levels of radiocarbon within these original dinosaur soft tissues only adds to the strength of this conclusion.

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