F Rosa Rubicondior: Creationism in Crisis - A Gap in the Fossil Record in Texas Has Just Been Filled With A Jurassic Plesiosaur

Wednesday 28 June 2023

Creationism in Crisis - A Gap in the Fossil Record in Texas Has Just Been Filled With A Jurassic Plesiosaur

Plesiosaur, artist's impression.
Newly Discovered Jurassic Fossils Are a Texas First | Jackson School of Geosciences | The University of Texas at Austin

Those pesky gaps in the fossil record into which creationists try to shoehorn their ever-shrinking little god, keep on getting filled by science. To the average child-like creationists it must seem at times as though every serious scientist is trying to prove them wrong. No wonder so many of them are also fruitloop conspiracy theorists.

But the fact remains that the 'fossil record' is simply the record of the fossils found so far. This was neatly illustrated recently when a team of palaeontologists filled another big gap - the lack of Jurassic vertebrate fossils in Texas. Since parts of Texas and Mexico were covered by a shallow sea during the Jurassic, there should have been a fossil record of Jurassic marine vertebrate species and yet none, apart from a few marine invertebrates such as ammonites and snails, had been found - until now.

The discovery of bone fragments of the limbs and backbone of a plesiosaur, was made in the Malone Mountains of West Texas by teams led by Steve May, of UT Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences Museum of Earth History.

The Jurassic deposits which are found in the Malone Mountains were laid down in the shallow sea just below sea level a few miles from the shore. The deposits have since been lifted up into mountains by tectonic activity. Hilariously, creationists try to explain the ordering of fossils in the geological column by claiming the more advanced animals could run faster so got further up the mountains as the biblical genocidal flood waters rose. This apparently explains why shellfish and marine vertebrates with flippers are found in mountains!

A paper describing the bones was published recently in the journal Rocky Mountain Geology.

A UT Jackson School of Geoscience news release tells the story of the research:
A team led by scientists at The University of Texas at Austin has filled a major gap in the state’s fossil record – describing the first known Jurassic vertebrate fossils in Texas.

The weathered bone fragments are from the limbs and backbone of a plesiosaur, an extinct marine reptile that would have swum the shallow sea that covered what is now northeastern Mexico and far western Texas about 150 million years ago.

The bones were discovered in the Malone Mountains of West Texas during two fossil hunting missions led by Steve May, a research associate at UT Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences Museum of Earth History.

Before the discovery, the only fossils from the Jurassic that had been collected and described from outcrops in Texas were from marine invertebrates, such as ammonites and snails. May said that the new fossil finds serve as solid proof that Jurassic bones are here.

Folks, there are Jurassic vertebrates out there. We found some of them, but there’s more to be discovered that can tell us the story of what this part of Texas was like during the Jurassic.

You just don’t want to believe that there are no Jurassic bones in Texas, plus, there was a tantalizing clue.

Steven R May, Lead author
Texas Vertebrate Paleontology Collections
The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA.
A paper describing the bones and other fossils was published in Rocky Mountain Geology on June 23.

The Jurassic was an iconic prehistoric era when giant dinosaurs walked the Earth. The only reason we humans know about them, and other Jurassic life, is because of fossils they left behind.

Steve May, a research associate at the Jackson School of Geosciences, holds a fossil from a plesiosaur, an extinct marine reptile.
Credit: Jackson School of Geosciences/ The University of Texas at Austin.
But to find Jurassic-aged fossils, you need Jurassic-aged rocks. Because of the geological history of Texas, the state hardly has any outcrops from this time in Earth history. The 13 square miles of Jurassic-aged rocks in the Malone Mountains make up most of those rocks in the state.

In 2015, when May learned while researching a book that there were no Jurassic bones in the Texas fossil record, he decided to go to the Malone Mountains to explore.

The clue was a mention of large bone fragments in a 1938 paper on the geology of the Malone Mountains by Claude Albritton, who later became a geology professor at Southern Methodist University (SMU). It was enough of a lead to get May and his collaborators out to West Texas to see for themselves. Large bone fragments are what they found. The plesiosaur fossils are eroded and broken up.

But it’s a start that could lead to more science, said co-author Louis Jacobs, a professor emeritus at SMU.

Geologists are going to go out there looking for more bones. They’re going to find them, and they’re going to look for the other things that interest them in their own special ways.

Louis L. Jacobs, co-author.
Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences
Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX, USA.
Today, the Malone Mountains rise above the dry desert landscape. During the Jurassic, the sediments were deposited just below sea level probably within miles of the shoreline.

The Malone Mountains of West Texas. Texas has very few outcrops of Jurassic rocks. Most of them are in the Malones.
Credit: Joshua Lively.
The team found several other specimens that give a look into the ancient shallow marine environment, such as petrified driftwood filled with burrows from marine worms and the shells of clams, snails and ammonites. The researchers found a range of plant fossils, including a pinecone, and wood with possible growth rings.

Globally, Jurassic plant fossils from lower latitudes close to the Earth’s equator are relatively rare, said co-author and paleobotanist Lisa Boucher, the director of the Jackson School’s Non-Vertebrate Paleontology Lab. She said the plant finds should make the Malones a place of interest to other paleobotanists and those interested in paleoenvironmental reconstruction.
Steve May (left) and Lisa Boucher hold Jurassic fossils from the Malone Mountains of West Texas among the cabinets of the vertebrate paleontology collections at The University of Texas at Austin, where the fossils are now kept. May holds a portion of a plesiosaur vertebra. Boucher holds a piece of fossilized wood. Both May and Boucher are authors on a recent paper on the first Jurassic vertebrates found and described in Texas.
Credit: Jackson School of Geosciences/ The University of Texas at Austin.

It’s frequently part of the scientific process. There’re a few lines buried in an old publication, and you think ‘surely somebody has already looked at that,’ but often they haven’t. You need to delve into it.

Lisa D. Boucher, co-author
Non-vertebrate Paleontology
Jackson School Museum of Earth History
The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, USA.
Scientists have been conducting research in the Malones for over 100 years. So, why did it take so long to bring back Jurassic bones? May has several ideas – from remoteness of the area and permitting, to the research interests of past scientists. Whatever the reasons, Boucher said that the team’s discovery of a Texas first shows the value of field work – simply traveling to a place to see what’s there.

The study’s additional co-authors are Kenneth Bader, a laboratory manager at the Jackson School Museum of Earth History; Joshua Lively, the curator of paleontology at Utah State University and a Jackson School alumnus; and Timothy Myers and Michael Polcyn, both researchers at Southern Methodist University.
Index Map showing location of the Malone Mountains (star) in southwest Texas.
Map of the Malone Mountains area showing general locations of TMM 44038 (A, Jackson Ranch area), and TMM 47258 (B, Cragin #1 area).

Typical exposure of siliciclastic and carbonate strata of the lower Malone Formation in the Jackson Ranch area. Bedding dips moderately to the right (southwest) in this view. A lenticular limestone cobble conglomerate approximately 1-meter-thick is present in the lower right.

Locality TMM 44038 (Jackson Ranch area, northwest Malone Mountains) where a partial plesiosaurian vertebra was discovered near the rock hammer.
Copyright: © 2023 The authors.
Published by University of Wyoming. Open access. (CC BY 4.0)
In the abstract to their open access paper in Rocky Mountain Geology, the palaeontologists say:

We present the first description of Jurassic vertebrate fossils from Texas. The vertebrate specimens were collected from the Upper Jurassic Malone Formation in the Malone Mountains of western Texas. The specimens are fragmentary and not particularly diagnostic, but probably represent elements of plesiosaurians. One specimen is similar to the caudal vertebra of a pliosaurid plesiosaurian, whereas another may be a partial propodial of a small plesiosaurian. Additional bone fragments are not identifiable at this time. These vertebrates were discovered along with abundant plant and invertebrate fossils. Previous studies of the invertebrate fossils indicate a Kimmeridgian to Tithonian age for the Malone Formation, which is consistent with a single grain age of 151±2 Ma from detrital zircon U–Pb geochronology obtained in this study. The Malone Formation was deposited in shallow marine to marginal marine environments along the northern edge of the Chihuahua trough. It is correlative with the La Casita and La Caja Formations of northern Mexico, where similar marine vertebrates have been reported. The Malone Formation is also correlative with the Morrison Formation to the north.

So illustrating that many of creationism's beloved gaps are simply there because the fossils haven't yet been found.

Incidentally, two of the research team are researchers from Southern Methodist University, one of whom, Michael J Polcyn, was involved in research I reported on yesterday. Evidently, they have no difficulty with the Theory of Evolution and don't apear to be about to abandon it in favour of creationists' evidence-free magical notion. But then they are scientists.

Thank you for sharing!

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