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Prehistoric Survivor Paradigm Under Fire?

Posted by: Scott Mardis on March 14th, 2014

Matt Bille, at his blog Matt’s Sci/Tech Blog, recently posted about another article by Sharon Hill questioning the validity of the so-called “Prehistoric Survivor Paradigm”, the idea that presumably extinct animals have managed to survive into the modern era without leaving a conspicuous fossil record and are in fact responsible for various modern day “monster” sightings and data.

Vertebrate paleontologist Darren Naish has also been very critical of this idea, particularly in regard to the idea of relict plesiosaurs (see this Cryptomundo post).

While I encourage you to read and listen to what Sharon Hill and Darren Naish have to say and they do make some powerful arguments, I feel some very relevant things to the debate have been left out. We must remember that the best case for most cryptids at this point in time is based on ambiguous, circumstantial evidence and any possible connections to extinct animals are tenuous at best. Assuming the bulk of descriptive and photographic evidence might be correct and bear some resemblance to a known fossil form, we should not overlook the remarkable phenomenon of convergent evolution. It’s within the realm of possibility that some recently evolved animal, unknown to us in fossil form, has developed features similar to some well known extinct forms.

Having said that, there is the phenomenon of “reworked” fossils. These are fossils of animals believed to have gone extinct found in younger fossil deposits after their presumed extinctions. They are called “reworked” because it is thought they have been worked out of their original strata into younger deposits by a host of physical phenomena. The mechanisms are usually tidal and fluvial erosion, tectonic activity, glacial scouring, erosion by wind and rain, volcanism, burrowing by animals on land and in the sea, even dislodgement by tree roots. The dating of fossils is done by radiometric dating, rare earth element testing and by the range correlation of diagnostic microfossils directly associated with the fossil or within the fossil matrix. Sometimes this information is not available, so assumptions have to be made based on the general consensus of the geologic range of the particular animal or the taphonomic state of the fossil itself. There do remain questions in some cases and there is considerable debate about the possible validity of some reputed Paleocene dinosaur specimens.

There have been isolated dinosaur teeth found in Miocene fossil deposits in France and in Louisiana.

My own searches through the paleontology literature have yielded anomalous plesiosaur material spanning from the Paleocene to the Pleistocene ice ages.

There are also the geological phenomena of “lazarus taxa” and “ghost lineages”. A lazarus taxon is the reemergence in the fossil record of a type that had been thought to have died out much earlier. The term ghost lineage refers to the missing fossil record of such a lazarus taxon. One example might be the controversial putative Paleocene therapsid (mammal-like reptile) Chronoperates paradoxus from Canada, which if correctly interpreted gives the therapsids as a group a 100 million year range extension. Additionally, the Iranian ichthyosaur Malawania is believed to have a 66 million year ghost lineage and the Megachasmid sharks (Megamouth) may have a 70 million year ghost lineage between the mid-Cretaceous and Miocene [PDF] download pdf – Vlaams Instituut voor de Zee. This is compared to only a 65 million year extinction record for the plesiosaurs.

This is all very speculative but I submit to you that you cannot ignore this evidence in question to the whole PSP debate. The presence of living plesiosaurs or non- avian dinosaurs today will only be demonstrated by confirmed type specimens. And while the fossil records of plesiosaurs and coelacanths may show very different patterns of diversity through time and deposition, the post-Cretaceous coelacanth fossil record is only represented by two specimens, the recently described Macropomoides palaestina from the Miocene of Israel and a highly questionable specimen from the Paleocene of Sweden [PDF] – Columbus State University.

Scott Mardis About Scott Mardis
Scott Mardis has been an active field investigator of the Lake Champlain “Monster” since 1992. He is a former sustaining member of the defunct International Society of Cryptozoology and a former volunteer worker in the Vertebrate Paleontology Dept. of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences (1990-1992). He co-authored a scientific abstract about the Lake Champlain hydrophone sounds for the Acoustical Society of America in 2010. He currently lives in Bradenton, Florida.

7 Responses to “Prehistoric Survivor Paradigm Under Fire?”

  1. DWA responds:

    This is all interesting. But this particular cherrypicking case against cryptids can be dismissed on the repeatedly-proven grounds that, technically speaking, we don’t know squat.

    (Relatively speaking.)

    Naish himself participated in a recent book showing the trickiness of interpreting paleofinds:

    All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals

    In short, we don’t know whether, say, sasquatch has fossil progenitors already identified. There is almost certainly a ‘ghost lineage’ of sorts for unconfirmed hairy hominoids. But plausible ancestors – and I don’t just mean Gigantopithecus – do exist in the fossil record. And this record doesn’t include uncatalogued bones in collections and bone finds by laymen that simply never got placed in the hands of conservators of any sort, like, say, that jawbone a Yukon uranium prospector is using as a cabin doorstop. It certainly doesn’t include fossils not found because we haven’t looked where they are yet (or in the case of, say, that part of Beringia now under the Bering Sea, that won’t likely be found at all).

    In short:

    If thousands of people are describing something consistently that appears to be leaving consistent footprints, I could give a fig what the fossil record says. It’s like the rest of scientific knowledge: imperfect and incomplete and frequently viewed very subjectively by most scientists.

  2. SirWilhelm responds:

    As usual, Evolutionists cite Evolution to justify their arguements. Evolution is not the set-in-stone theory they would like you to believe, making their millions of years basings for their timelines, equally suspect, as is the age of the Earth itself, since every dating method that has been developed, to date, has been proven to be unreliable, even the most reliable, carbon dating, which is only good for thousands of years, not miliions, let alone billions. Without going into the details of the debates, I will state that I believe that the only firm date we can give for what exists today, especially, is the date of the world wide catastrophe we know best as the Biblical Flood, which ancient texts say happened around 10,500 BCE. Anything living today, descended from survivors of that catastrophe, and there is evidence that most of the fossils we find today, were formed during that catastrophe, which is why so many supposedly ancient fossils, contain fleshy remains. The layers they are found in, were not formed over millions of years, but were deposited by the Flood, which is why so many of them are found in huge bone piles, broken, crushed, disconnected, and mixed together. Most of the evidence for the Flood, has been misinterpreted as ice ages. We have been coming out of an ice age, which was the after effect of the Flood. We should not be surprised that some creatures we call cryptids, survived the catastrophe. We should be grateful anything living survived it, since nothing on Mars, which suffered it’s catastrophe at the same time Earth did, survived. What caused the catastrophe? A large celestial body, the size of Neptune/Uranus, passed between the Earth and Mars, and it will return, someday.

  3. DWA responds:

    This article is interesting in its own right.

    From it:

    “Many exciting new species awaiting description are lying in museum collections, but the sort of detailed descriptions that are required to do full justice to them often take a lot of time.”

  4. shill responds:

    While all of what you wrote is interesting and has merit, I don’t agree that it constitutes evidence for retaining the PSP (Prehistoric Survivor Paradigm) withe respect to cryptids.

    Convergent evolution. Yes, it happens. Are you suggesting that there are modern animals that resemble dinosaurs and this is a possible explaination? But we have no knowledge or fossil record of them? That is total speculation which is fun but not reliable at all. I could also say there is an individual mutant hippo or croc that is responsible for these stories (that are assumed to be true at face value, which I don’t buy). I find zero confidence in that interpretation as well.

    Reworked fossil material is a well-known phenomenon. I fail to see how this lends support to the PSP idea. In fact, it argues against it.

    I spoke of Lazarus taxa in my piece. Yes, it certainly happens. I can’t confirm the time frames you mentioned regarding the example animals but I shall assume they are true and say, “So?” We haven’t discovered everything alive and fossilized. A few anomalies are interesting but they aren’t the norm and while it’s nice to use such examples to hope, I trust vertebrate paleontologists, who are immersed in the evidence, to better judge whether such an idea of living plesiosaurs is at all plausible. It’s still not.

    There are always endless “what ifs”. It’s prudent to not spin your wheels mired in “what ifs” but make a tentative conclusion on the best evidence you have available at this time. That’s my view, at least. But cryptozoology consists of a lot of speculation these days. I don’t agree with presenting speculation to the public as being equivalent to evidence.

  5. Scott Mardis responds:

    While the evidence for most cryptids may not meet some scientist’s standards for scientific evidence (this involves philosophy of science issues), there is evidence of something unusual of a possibly biologic nature going on and it is hoped that we amateur naturalists that are intrigued with the available evidence might be excused the opportunity to continue to look for better evidence that might stand up to scientific scrutiny. By judicial standards of evidence, the reputed existence of some of these putative animals is impressive. Eyewitnesses have been subjected to lie detector tests and passed them. However, judicial standards of evidence are not the same as standards of evidence in the biological sciences, which requires deposition of a type specimen for any new animal described. Which is all well and good. I do think that some critics of the hunt for cryptozoological animals fail to appreciate the difficulty of getting at animals that may live under hundreds of feet of water or in deep, dense forests. Just as we “cryptozoologists” have a burden of proof to produce type specimens before these hypothesized animals we posit are excepted by the biological sciences, I feel the paleontology community has a responsibility to effectively demonstrate that these so-called “reworked” fossils are in fact reworked (if that is possible) before making firm statements to the effect that these presumably extinct animals cannot have survived.

  6. shill responds:

    Judicial standards? Lie detector tests? Paleontologists have to demonstrate reworked fossils?

    We really are on different pages here. Most surface rock on earth has been reworked. It’s the way many rocks are formed – sandstone, shale, conglomerate.

    I’m going to skip going on about the difference between evidence in a court of law versus scientific evidence. They are worlds apart and not applicable to zoology or natural inquiry.

  7. Scott Mardis responds:

    Duh! I know basic geology. I’m talking specifically about reworked or transported fossils of animals presumably out of their geologic range. You know that. I’m not going to respond to any more of your sarcastic comments.

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