[Today’s post is excerpted from Living Fossils by scientific researcher, Dr. Carl Werner. This book is volume 2 in the series,Evolution: The Grand Experiment. Living Fossils is published byNew Leaf Press.]
If you asked visitors leaving a natural history museum whether modern types of birds lived at the same time as dinosaurs, most likely you would get a resounding “No.” Before I began the active phase of my experiment in 1997, I had this same impression. Only extinct, unusual birds were present during the time of dinosaurs, I believed, such as the toothed bird, Archaeopteryx. In the 60 museums I visited, not once did I see a single fossil of a modern bird from a dinosaur layer.
My experiment predicted that if evolution was not true, I would find modern birds with dinosaurs. I already had fairly robust evidence that evolution was not true for the other animals such as reptiles, amphibians, fish, worms, sponges, shellfish, crustaceans, insects and echinoderms, but birds seemed to be different. Why?
It turns out they are not different; rather, they are simply not displayed in the museums I visited. This came to light when I interviewed paleontologists from 1997 to 2008.
Dr. William Clemens, a paleontologist at the University of California, Berkeley, got into a bitter argument played out in the nation press in the late 1980s with authors of the asteroid theory. The asteroid theory suggested dinosaurs went extinct because an asteroid hit the earth, resulting in an ecological disaster. The fire, smoke and dust from the asteroid impact theoretically blocked off the sun, causing a cooling of the atmosphere. This climate change then killed off all the dinosaurs, or so the theory goes.
Dr. Clemens simply did not believe in the asteroid extinction theory because, in his opinion, there was lack of evidence to support it. He had never found the smoking gun – a field of dead dinosaurs that coincided with an asteroid impact. Because of this, he and his colleagues set out to prove the theory wrong.
Dr. Clemens reasoned that if an asteroid struck the earth and killed off the dinosaurs by an ecological disaster, then other animals living at that same time should have gone extinct, too. These animals are much more sensitive to environmental changes and pollutants and should have perished along with the dinosaurs.
He and his group began looking for amphibians, insects and birds in the dinosaur layers. He reasoned that the more examples he found with dinosaurs, the less likely it was an asteroid impact had caused the extinction of dinosaurs since these sensitive animals are still living today. This was the backdrop for our interview when I asked Dr. Clemens the million-dollar question: Had he found any modern-appearing birds with dinosaurs?
Dr. Clemens recounted that a graduate student of his had found a parrot bone from the dinosaur layers. When he said this, I almost fell out of my chair since his report fell in line with my original prediction about finding modern-appearing birds with dinosaurs.
The graduate student, Tom Stidham, reported, “Paleontologists have been looking at these late Cretaceous collections and particularly focusing on little scraps of bone. And what they’re finding is, there is at that time, in the late Cretaceous, quite a diversity of modern groups of birds…”
That same year I also interviewed Dr. Monroe Strickberger from the University of California, Berkeley, on the topic of proteins and the origin of life. After the interview, I went back and read his 1996 college textbook, Evolution. What he wrote about bird evolution raised my suspicions one more notch. I had to ask myself, “What was a flamingo doing with dinosaurs, anyway?” In retrospect, I wonder why I had never seen any of these fossils displayed at the 60 museums I visited.
In February, 1999 I interviewed Dr. Paul Sereno, from the University of Chicago, on the topic of dinosaur evolution. During this interview I asked Dr. Sereno my standard question about asteroid survivors. His answer made me begin to feel my experiment had been vindicated. Dr. Sereno suggested that not only parrots, but penguins and owls had been found in dinosaur rock layers, too.
“What is becoming apparent is that many of the modern bird groups – parrots, maybe even penguins, and other kinds of groups like owls – evolved earlier in the dinosaur era and we are beginning to pick up their traces.” – Dr. Sereno.
Three years later, in February, 2002, I traveled to the Milwaukee Public Museum. Here I found yet another example of a modern type of bird found in dinosaur rock layers. The museum staff had found a modern-appearing avocet along with a T.rex and a Triceratops dinosaur at Hell Creek, Montana. Avocets are living today in Louisiana and Texas.
The scientists at the Milwaukee Public Museum reconstructed a model of what this ancient avocet looked like, based on fossilized bones. Ignoring all the colors of feathers which are not preserved in fossils, these two animals are quite likely the same species.
Based on fossil evidence, parrots, flamingos, cormorants, sandpipers, owls, penguins, avocets, and tube-nose albatross-like birds lived at the same time as dinosaurs. Based on molecular divergence data, most or all of the major modern bird groups were present during the time of the dinosaurs. For me, birds were a completely unexpected fulfillment of my hypothesis prediction and raised serious doubts about the theory of evolution.