QUESTION: NEW DINOSAUR FIND? What does the discovery of anew species of duck-billed hadrosaur found along the Colville River in Northern Alaska tell us?

ANSWER by Caleb.

According to Florida State University Professor of Biological Science Greg Erickson it “challenges everything we thought about a dinosaur’s physiology.” The creature has been given the name Urgunaaluk kuukpikensis (‘ancient grazer of Coleville River’) as a tribute to the local Iñupiat peoples, and is considered a new species based on its “very unique skeletal structures in the area of the skull, especially around the mouth”, distinct from other hadrosaurs like Edmontosaurus.1

Of course, the reason this dino has grasped the attention of the media is not its status as a new species, but rather, the location of its final resting place and the comments researchers have made on that site: “The dig site—the Prince Creek Formation—is a unit of rock that was deposited on an arctic, coastal flood plain about 69 million years ago. At the time the Prince Creek Formation was deposited, it was located well above the paleo-Arctic Circle, about 80 degrees north latitude.…At the time they lived, arctic Alaska was covered in trees because Earth’s climate was much warmer as a whole, But, because it was so far north, the dinosaurs likely contended with months of winter darkness, even if it wasn’t as cold as a modern-day winter. They lived in a world where the average temperature was about 43 degrees Fahrenheit, and they probably saw snow.”1

“By reptilian standards, that’s pretty chilly,” said Druckenmiller [Earth sciences curator of the University of Alaska Museum of the North]. “These were dinosaurs living at the very edge of what we think dinosaurs were physiologically capable of,” he said.” So he and his colleagues believe that this species must have had special adaptations to live in the cold.

This new discovery has significant bearing on the age-old debate over whether dinosaurs were warm- or cold-blooded, they report; “It’s an intriguing question, and one that’s difficult to answer with bones alone: Did dinosaurs, like modern reptiles need to bask in the sun and heat to survive? Or were they warm-blooded, like the birds that would become their only surviving descendants—able to survive in the cold and dark? Erickson and Druckenmiller’s new species shows that the answer may be quite complicated.”2

This whole new dinosaur species report is a perfect example of how scientists studying the past combine elements of both fact and assumption to create a story. It’s a great illustration of how, despite evolutionary scientists constant claims that they only deal with facts, the real fact is that all researchers have a worldview which guides their interpretation of the available scientific data. This report also shows the types of problems that are created when one attempts to interpret the data through the wrong set of ‘glasses’.

The standard geo-scientist starts with the uniformitarian belief that today’s processes and their rates can be extrapolated into the past to tell us how certain geological features (rock layers, fossils, etc) were created. If there are no worldwide catastrophic floods now, then there has never been a worldwide catastrophic flood! Secular geologists who study rock strata and their fossil contents use these uniformitarian ideas as usually undiscussed or sometimes hidden rules in an attempt to reconstruct Earth’s ancient or ‘paleo-environments’. Therefore, they believe that fossil deposits must be the results of regular geologic processes (river deposition, local floods, etc) operating on a relatively small scale over short distances over a long time. Combined with a belief in slow-and-gradual geological plate movement over millions of years and the accuracy of radioisotope dating, secular geologists conclude that these dinosaurs must have lived near where we find them today—which creates a conundrum when dinosaurs are found in what are believed to have been Polar regions millions of years ago. 

However, nothing about these dinosaurs suggests ordinary processes operating slowly over millions of years. Allow me to illustrate this. The researchers report that;  “The majority of the bones of the Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis were collected from a single layer of rock called the Liscomb Bonebed. The layer, about 2 to 3 feet thick, contains thousands of bones of primarily this one species of dinosaur.…Researchers believe a herd of juveniles was killed suddenly to create this deposit of remains.”1 According to the original paper, “The hadrosaurid remains are almost entirely disarticulated, show little evidence of weathering, predation, or trampling, and are typically uncrushed and unpermineralized,” giving clear testimony to rapid, catastrophic burial.3  Yet such a horrendous type of catastrophic event is unknown today even in the biggest Tsunamis which may kill vast numbers but are not known to produce any fossil bone beds at all, so the present here is no use in explaining the past.

Now let’s approach this in a different way. We will reject uniformitarian assumptions, and accept the possibility that the Biblical Flood is real history and may be responsible for most of Earth’s geologic layers. Now the paradox is solved rather easily. As International Director of Creation Research, John Mackay, likes to say, “Fossils don’t tell us where things lived, they tell us where things are dead.” During the Flood, herds of dinosaurs trying to escape the rising waters would have been swept up and killed all at once, then transported great distances tossed and torn in the process before finally being rapidly buried in sediments. It is also very likely that continental plate motions occurred rapidly during the Flood, which may explain why these dinosaurs are found so far north today.

As Bible-believing creationists, we have no particular reservation regarding whether or not dinosaurs were warm- or cold-blooded. God designed dinosaurs differently than other reptiles in many ways (pelvic structure, limb orientation, etc), so it wouldn’t be a surprise to creationists if dinosaurs turn out to be warm-blooded or ‘middle-blooded’ (mesothermic). However, where we disagree with the secular world is their unstated use of uniformitarian and evolutionary beliefs to create ‘paleo-environments’ in which dinosaurs thrived in polar regions, and therefore must have been warm-blooded. It even appears that another hidden assumption behind the acceptance of warm-blooded dinosaurs seems to be their alleged connection to birds 2 (See the quote in paragraph 4) Talk about having your cake and eating it too!

For more on dinosaur temperature see the Fact File item Dinos Neither Hot Nor Cold

References:

1. Haughney, Kathleen. "It's a 'Lost World': Researchers Discover New Dinosaur in Arctic." Florida State 24/7. University Communications, Florida State University, 22 Sept. 2015. Web. 22 Sept. 2015. <http://news.fsu.edu/Top-Stories/It-s-a-lost-world-Researchers-discover-new-dinosaur-in-Arctic>.

2. Feltman, Rachel. "A ‘lost World’ of Dinosaurs Thrived in the Snowy Dark of Alaska, Researchers Say." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 22 Sept. 2015. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2015/09/22/a-lost-world-of-dinosaurs-thrived-in-the-snowy-dark-of-alaska-researchers-say/.

3. Mori, Hirotsugu, Patrick S. Druckenmiller, and Gregory Maxwell Erickson. "A New Arctic Hadrosaurid from the Prince Creek Formation (lower Maastrichtian) of Northern Alaska." Acta Palaeontologica Polonica (n.d.): n. pag. Http://www.app.pan.pl/article/item/app001522015.html. Web. 22 Sept. 2015.

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