Thursday, 20 March 2014

The North Dakota 'brethren'

One conjures up images of the despotic, dictatorial James Harvey Symington as the most infamous inhabitant of North Dakota, then finds that his predecessors were the 'chickens from hell'

Carnegie Museum unveils dinosaur nicknamed 'chicken from hell'

In prehistoric North Dakota, a marshy land roamed by turtles and crocodiles, there lived a dinosaur that experts think looked sort of like a giant chicken.

When the species' bones arrived at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History a decade ago, employees looked at the 11-foot-long animal -- with its beak, long neck, crested head and slanted posture -- and nicknamed it the "chicken from hell."

"He probably did look like a giant, really freaky chicken," said Matt Lamanna, assistant curator of the Carnegie Museum, who spent nine years studying the animal and can't help but think of it when he now eats chicken wings.

Bird-like dinosaur unveiled at Museum of Natural History

Scientists from Carnegie and Smithsonian museums and the University of Utah today unveiled a dinosaur discovery -- a sharp-clawed, 500-pound, bird-like creature that roamed the Dakotas 66 million years ago. (Video by Nate Guidry; 3/19/2014)

On Wednesday, Mr. Lamanna and three other paleontologists published a paper giving the infernal chicken a place in the dinosaur family tree. Now it has a more dignified name: Anzu wyliei.

Anzu, who weighed about 500 pounds, lived 66 million years ago during the Cretaceous era, shortly before dinosaurs went extinct. The species was probably an omnivore, Mr. Lamanna said, using its claws to pick leaves and its toothless beak to eat them. It might have also dined on fruit, eggs and tiny creatures such as insects and lizards.

When it wasn't chowing down, Anzu was probably busy running away from its contemporary, Tyrannosaurus rex, through the Dakotas' coastal floodplains.

The discovery of Anzu sheds light on the last years of the dinosaurs, said Tyler Lyson, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian Institution, who co-authored the paper. Some scientists think the number of dinosaur species was in decline before their extinction, but the addition of Anzu to the list of Cretaceous species bolsters the theory that many were still around.

"The fact that we're still finding new species in the late Cretaceous indicates that dinosaur diversity was doing very well when the meteorite struck," Mr. Lyson said, referring to a leading theory -- a giant meteorite hitting the Yucatan Peninsula -- that led to the extinction of dinosaurs.

Anzu also is important as a rare example of the oviraptorosaur genus, closely related to the ancestors of birds. Oviraptor bones are hard to find because they were so brittle; like bird bones, they were full of tiny air ducts.

There are three sets of Anzu fossils, two of them stored in wooden trays in a room in the Carnegie Museum's basement that employees call "the big bone room."

One of the sets was found by Mr. Lyson. In 1999, he spotted a bone sticking out of the ground in the Hell Creek formation in North Dakota, a place with abundant dinosaur fossils. After cleaning up the set of six bones, he and his team knew right away that they'd found a new species. They were intrigued by its appearance, especially the crest on its skull, which was probably used for mating displays.

"That was very striking to all of us, to see that giant crest," Mr. Lyson said. "It's a very charismatic-looking animal."

At a 2006 paleontology conference, Mr. Lamanna saw a poster of Mr. Lyson's fossils and realized they were from the same species as the "chicken from hell." They teamed up with two other researchers to document the species.

Putting the dinosaur together was hard work. The fragile bones had to be carefully prepared with tiny sand-blasters and dental tools. Then came the agony of fitting the bones together. Because of the rarity of oviraptor fossils, they didn't have good examples to work from.

"Unfortunately for us, Anzu didn't come with an instruction manual, so there was a big learning curve," Mr. Lamanna said.

When it was time to name it, the team stayed loyal to the "chicken from hell" moniker. Their first idea was to look for Latin or Greek translations, but they decided those terms would be too difficult to pronounce. They considered "Phobogallus," Greek for "fear chicken." Nope.

Then, Mr. Lamanna came up with the idea of naming it after a bird demon from ancient mythology. He stumbled on the Mesopotamian god Anzu, a lion-headed bird that caused whirlwinds by flapping its wings. The second half of the name, Wyliei, is in honor of Wylie Tuttle, the grandson of Lee Foster, chairman of the museum's board of trustees.

Over the seven years they worked together and the thousands of emails they exchanged, the team -- Mr. Lamanna, Mr. Lyson, Hans-Dieter Sues of the Smithsonian Institution and Emma Schachner of the University of Utah -- became close friends. They relaxed after work by going out for beers, teaching each other boxing moves at the gym and watching "South Park" episodes.

"That's been one of the greatest things about this project," Mr. Lamanna said. "Emma, Hans, Tyler and I are all good buddies. If we weren't working on the project, we would still hang out."

Mr. Lamanna, who grew up in upstate New York and lives in Seven Fields with his wife, joined the Carnegie Museum in 2004. Before Anzu, his claim to fame was helping discover Paralititan, one of the largest dinosaurs known, during a trip to Egypt. He was also part of a group that uncovered several birdlike dinosaurs in China.

Now he's concentrating on dinosaur species from the southern hemisphere. When the giant continent of Pangaea split in half about 160 million years ago, southern dinosaurs followed different evolutionary paths from their northern cousins. They haven't received as much attention because their former habitats are far from most researchers, Mr. Lamanna said. He's traveled to Antarctica, Australia and Argentina in search of new species.

"That's what's so interesting to me -- revealing these dinosaurian lost worlds," he said.

Richard Webner: rwebner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-4903. First Published March 19, 2014 5:09 PM

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/local/region/2014/03/19/Chicken-from-hell-actually-a-dinosaur-Carnegie-Musuem-scientists-say/stories/201403190180#ixzz2wWS9YtA


  1. The existence of dinosaurs like this had been suspected for some years because of the discovery of bone fragments, but yesterday’s announcement is based on three almost complete skeletons.

    The Times has published an artist’s impression of what the creature might have looked like.
    See http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/multimedia/archive/00546/9ed94b52-afa0-11e3-_546483c.jpg

    There are two aspects of this discovery that Brethren leaders would probably like to prevent their members from seeing.

    One is that the skeletons have been dated to almost 66 million years ago, a long time before the creation of the world, as shown in the chronological table at the beginning of the current edition of the Darby Bible.

    The other is that this is one of several fossils that are intermediate in form between dinosaurs and birds, which all support the suggestion by T. H. Huxley that birds evolved from dinosaurs. Several other similar species have been found in the Liaoning Province in north-eastern China, several of which have feathers. T. H. Huxley made his suggestion away back in the 19th Century. Now it is more than just a suggestion. There is now a wealth of evidence supporting his conjecture.

    Why does this matter to me? In 2004 I wrote an essay explaining how we know that fundamentalism is false. But perhaps it is more important to explain why it is harmful. It is harmful to science; it is harmful to faith; it is harmful to social cohesion; it is harmful to morality; it is harmful to cult victims. More of this when I have time to spell it out.

  2. Ian - The only thing that has been clearly spelt out is you live in Cloud Chicken Land.

    There is no evidence in the fossil record of intermediate forms. That is a false notion and certainly not good science. Good science has evidence to back it, rather than daft assumptions. Give us one genuine example please. See - none.
    If this really is a chicken from Hell, perhaps some on this blog will be able to visit it in its natural habitat quite soon.

    Scrambled egg anyone?

    1. Yes absolutely no evidence,so its only another ambush

  3. The only way these big chickens will get their heads out of the sand is if someone discovers fossilised furniture from the multitasking Man of God/Furniture Salesman of Sydney going back more than 6,000 BC. Then the front page of the JND Bible will be ripped out and history rewritten to suit the Holy Dutch Bookcase Maker.

  4. It's been an interesting week for geologists, palaeontologists, cosmologists and for non-professionals who are intrigued about the Earth's and the universe's ancient past.

    I gather that scientists working with an extraordinary telescope in Antarctica think they have seen gravitational waves from about 13.8 billion years ago. This discovery has yet to be confirmed by peer review but, if true, it's pretty awe-inspiring.

  5. Anonymous asks, “Give us one genuine example please.” [of intermediate forms].

    Every fossil is probably a genuine example of an intermediate form, except those at the end of their line, the ones that become extinct before they can evolve any further. If we continue to evolve, then we will be intermediate forms too, intermediate between our somewhat different ancestors and our somewhat different progeny.

    What makes the discovery of intermediate forms very telling is that the ones that are discovered are usually similar to the ones that were predicted. More than 150 years ago T. H. Huxley predicted that fossils intermediate between dinosaurs and birds would be found. It is only recently that many have indeed been found, including this one.

    In the 1950s a palaeontologist by name of A. S. Romer pointed out a particularly big gap in the fossil record.

    Before Romer’s gap, i.e. about 360 million years ago, there were aquatic animals called tetrapods that were rather fish-like but with legs instead of fins, and mostly with six digits on each limb, which they probably used to pull themselves through swamps by grasping plant stems. These legs were not much use for walking on, because they stuck out almost sideways.

    After Romer’s gap, about 15 million years later, there were somewhat similar animals that lived mainly on land, with legs more adapted for walking and mostly with only five digits on each limb. These were the first known terrestrial vertebrates, but as well as the differences in their limbs, their tails were not so fin-like and their skulls were smaller and less flattened than their presumed aquatic ancestors.

    Between these two lots, no intermediate forms were known, until very recently.

    In 2012 Romer’s gap was filled by several hundred fossils found in Scotland, a little bit East of Edinburgh, in a bed of mudstone about 350 million years old. It is of particular interest to humans because it is in the line of ancestry that probably led to all terrestrial vertebrates, including us. So in a remote sense maybe we are all of Scottish descent. The new fossils include both aquatic and terrestrial species with anatomy intermediate between those that come before and after Romer’s gap.

    About 20 of the fossils have been put on display at the National Museum of Scotland.

    For the full citation see

    1. For a long time i failed to understand evolution.For i even wondered why monkeys in the zoo didn't evolve into men.

      But that was where i were so wrong . For i was only considering convergent type evolution . Rather than divergent type evolution, where living things had all evolved apart from their common ancestor of the past.

    2. Not all of us in the Scientific community agree with you Ian. Have a look at:

    3. The site truthinscience also runs a blog, that no one can comment or further discuss the issues on.So why is that then. If they feel they can stand by these sorts of claims they making

    4. From the truthinscience site that Anonymous21 March 2014 22:38 mentions. It says this "If this is correct, then the fossil record should contain many fossils with forms intermediate between different species. This is not what the fossil record shows"

      There could be a number of explanations for this. One explanation might be, usually most living organisms might be devoured, and then any remains laying on the surface, may also have rotted and disappeared .

      Until such a time when some other special situation occurs. Like when fossils are buried under a volcanic eruption. Or perhaps when tsunami suddenly kills and buries organism at great depth in silt

      Situations like this, may perhaps help explain why fossil are not always found at regular interval . Many intermediate forms, may not even get to become fossilized .

  6. Ah Ian! But where was Scotland 350 million years ago?

    (I've seen the fossils in the National Museum in Edinburgh. They have an excellent geological display and the Museum is well worth a visit.)

  7. Where was Scotland 350 million years ago?

    It was close to the Equator, and it was bearing marks of the violent collision that had joined it to England when the two landmasses moved together across a 4,000 mile gap known as the Iapetus Ocean. During Scotland’s movement around the Earth’s surface, it passed through several different climatic zones, and its rocks and fossils still bear the records of deep oceans, scalding deserts and tropical rainforests. The force of the collision with England created the Southern Uplands, and the resulting wrinkles in the Earth’s crust probably created some of the Hebrides. In places the crust was breached and lava flowed out. 350 million years ago there was a volcano where Edinburgh Castle now stands.

    The various changes in the Earth’s surface produced by continental drift is nicely illustrated at
    http://www.discoveringfossils.co.uk/how_britain_formed.htm with particular emphasis on the wanderings of the various parts of the United Kingdom.

    After the referendum in September 2014, it is rumoured that the Scottish National Party (SNP) hopes to bring back the Iapetus Ocean in a figurative sense. I will be voting against Scottish independence. Like many contributors to this blog, I have had a bellyful of inward-looking separatism and I don’t like it in politics any more than I like it in religion.

  8. Ian you said - "Every fossil is probably a genuine example of an intermediate form"
    Scientists say - Your Assumptions and imaginations are not science.

    You got it wrong before and you got it wrong again right at the start.
    Intelligent design is the most scientific approach because it takes all "reasonable and logical possibilities" into account.
    Even so, it is not a cut and tried matter and as with the vast universe, there are limitations to man's grasp of what actually has taken place. Calculations based on projections of theory are not evidence. You were not there and neither is there any evidence in the fossil record to show cold blooded animals such as fish changing over time in a cow or a lion. These animals are of no relation to each other and so the only logical answer is a creator God.
    Mankind is also separate from the apes being we have a soul, have a conscience and have been made in God's likeness and image.
    Your explanations are evidence of man away from God and are certainly not science.


    1. Anonymous22 March 2014 03:35 says " You were not there and neither is there any evidence in the fossil record to show cold blooded animals such as fish changing over time in a cow or a lion. These animals are of no relation to each other and so the only logical answer is a creator God. "

      But often people were not there in person either . When a number of rapes and murders have been committed. Yet forensic science using DNA combined with some other forms of forensics, can still discover so much about the criminal activity.

      So not being there at the particular time and place, in person . Maybe still says little about what we can claim to know about a situation

    2. "so the only logical answer is a creator God."

      Hmmm ... or the easy answer to avoid having to think for myself?


  9. I agree that there are gaps in the fossil record but I do not agree that these are reasons to doubt that evolution has occurred. We would expect gaps whether evolution has occurred or not. Indeed, the number of gaps will continue to increase. Every time you find a fossil that is intermediate between its two nearest relatives, then you divide the gap in two and you are left with two gaps instead of one. You are now looking for two missing links instead of one.

    Only a tiny proportion of individuals become fossils, and only a tiny proportion of fossils are discovered. If a population was sparse, as humans were for most of the last million years, then you have to expect gaps. Another reason for gaps is spelled out in great detail in the 1972 paper by Eldredge and Gould, which you can read at http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/ridley/classictexts/eldredge.pdf

    If you think gaps represent evidence against evolution (a point on which I don’t agree) then what do we say about species such as the horse whose fossil record shows a long detailed history of evolution going back 50 million years with no substantial gaps? Are we to think that some species were specifically created from nothing whereas others evolved? Surely no one would take that dual-origin idea seriously.

    I also accept that the fossil record is not compatible with a constant speed of evolution for all species. There are species that remained hardly changed for millions of years and others that appear to have changed rapidly. But this is no great surprise. We know of some major innovations during evolutionary history that could only have happened suddenly, not gradually. An example is the merging of a bacterial species with an archaeal species to create the first ever eukaryotic cell. That by its very nature is not something that could have occurred gradually. We also know of some evolutionary changes that altered the fossil record abruptly by making the organism more resistant to decay after death. An example is the evolution of lignin. We also know of some major changes in the earth’s environment, temperature and atmosphere, which would be expected to force evolution into a more rapid pace at times. When oxygen first became a significant component of our atmosphere, many organisms would have died and only the more innovative ones could have survived, and when the oxygen concentration fell again then the larger insects would have had to become smaller to survive, since their primitive respiratory system would be inadequate to keep a large body supplied with oxygen.

    The evidence for evolution depends on many different biological observations from many different branches of biological science which, taken together, is so overwhelming that those who study it objectively have long ago stopped discussing whether evolution has occurred. Just as historians don’t discuss whether there was ever a Bronze Age, and astronomers don’t discuss whether other galaxies actually exist. It is not because they have closed minds. It is because they don’t want to spend valuable time on tiny residual philosophical doubts.

    Almost the entire body of biological knowledge points in the direction of evolution. Almost any advanced biological textbook or any encyclopaedia sets out the evidence in sufficient detail to be scrutinised, criticised, weighed and assessed for credibility; almost all of the world’s great museums set out an accessible summary of the main branches of the tree of life. Nowadays the scholarly discussion of evolution concentrates only on the lineages of ancestral trees, where there are still many details to be discovered, and on some details of the mechanisms by which evolution has occurred, not on the question of whether it has or has not occurred.

    The only really big gap worth puzzling about is the gap between inanimate matter and the first self-replicating entity that could be regarded as a form of life. If biblical literalists want to find a gap worth discussing, they will find one there.

  10. For anyone interested in a readable, well-illustrated, straightforward, introductory book about fossils, I recommend "Fossils - the Story of Life" by Dr Sue Rigby of Edinburgh University. The book is published by the British Geological Survey, ISBN 0-852722-84-2.

    The Brethren might like to consider buying this book for their school libraries.

  11. Anonymous 22 March 03:35

    Says "Mankind .. has been made in God's likeness and image."

    If God is an almighty being; here since before time, who created the heavens and the earth, and indeed the entire universe, and if He is all-seeing and all-knowing with infinite powers how can he look just like a man? Surely He could look like anything He wished to look like at any time.
    I think the quotation should be reversed - it is Man that makes God in his image... miserable, rule-bound people have an unpleasant officious God, expansive loving people have a loving and forgiving God and so on.
    It also surprises me that those people who claim to attach most importance to God in their daily lives, as the brethren do in claiming to live by God's Word in the bible; then appear to think their God is an idiot. If you had created the universe would it bother you what colour shirt someone wore, or whether their hair was an inch too long, for example?
    Why too, if He created sex, is God portrayed as such a prude?


    1. Brethren used to say that if God had meant us to travel by air he would have given us wings, and if he had meant us to smoke we would have been born with chimneys on our heads. Maybe if God had meant us to wear coloured shirts, he would have created coloured cotton.

      Perhaps by analogy, if God had meant us to wear beards he would have given us hair on our chins, and if God had meant us to go skinny-dipping, we would have been born without any clothes on. If God had meant us to think, he would have given us brains.

      There is no end to the bad arguments people will swallow if it suits their prejudices.