Scelidosaurus—evidence of rapid burial in the Early Jurassic of southern England
Over the years a number of specimens of the land-living dinosaur Scelidosaurus have been found along the Jurassic coast between Charmouth and Lyme Regis in the Black Ven cliffs of the Charmouth Mudstone Formation. This is identified as the Lower Lias, or Early Jurassic, and dated according to the standard uniformitarian timescale to around 190 Ma. The Jurassic coast is normally noted for its marine fossils, but the strata contain fossils of land-living plants and animals, such as wood and flies, mixed with marine ammonites in the same layers. Scelidosaurus was a quadrupedal herbivorous dinosaur with the front limbs somewhat shorter than the hind limbs. It was an ornithischian dinosaur, meaning ‘bird-hipped’. It is noteworthy that palaeontologists do not believe birds evolved from bird-hipped dinosaurs, but from theropod saurischian dinosaurs; that is ‘lizard hipped’ dinosaurs. Protective bony scutes, or osteoderms, have been found on the side and back in rows, which provided some armour for the animal when alive in similar fashion to the osteoderms on crocodiles (unlike Scelidosaurus, crocodiles are carnivorous and saurischian). The animal was typically about 3–4 m long (figure 1).
James Harrison found the first specimen in 1858, which included a skull and a few bones (figure 2). It was discovered as a result of quarrying activity at Black Ven, and was sent to Richard Owen who named it Scelidosaurus harrisonii in 1859. The more complete skeleton was recovered over subsequent months, with scattered osteoderms present, but seemingly missing the forelimbs. These finds were carefully described in a couple of papers: of the skull and a few bones in 1861, followed by the description of the more complete specimen in 1863.1,2 Owen suggested the animal had lived on land, or on the margins of a river. Furthermore, he speculated that the carcass was then washed downstream into the ocean where the body experienced some limited decomposition and scavenging before burial in the mud.2 The remains have subsequently been subject to geological compression in the strata. The find has been ascribed to the Woodstone Nodule Bed, part of Black Ven Marls, which is dated to the late Sinemurian marine deposits (between 199.3 ± 2 Ma and 190.8 ± 1.5 Ma).3
Other specimens have subsequently been found in the area around Lyme Regis and Charmouth (and in northern Arizona). Another find was described in 1959 from the same immediate locality near Charmouth; found by James Jackson in the Stonebarrow Marl or Belemnite Marls (early Pliensbachian), which is immediately above the finds described by Owen.4 Other specimens of Scelidosaurus have been found over the years, including with the remains of skin impressions, for example as discovered in 1985.5,6 At least two specimens of Scelidosaurus are considered to have been found in these early Pliensbachian strata: dated to between 190.8 ± 1.5 Ma and 182.7 ± 1.5 Ma.3,5
What is of further relevance for creation scientists is that Scelidosaurus specimens have been found with stomach contents present and skin impressions left.7 Evidence of the preservation of soft tissues in the fossils further supports the necessity for rapid burial in the marine sediment, which is consistent with a global flood. In the UK, a Channel 4 television program, Dinosaur Detectives was shown on the 30 December 2004, and carefully described the implications of these finds in terms of the requirement for rapid burial on account of the evidence.8
The program reported on the find of a 3.5m long Scelidosaurus fossil found within the Lower Jurassic rock layers near Lyme Regis in Dorset by a local fossil hunter David Sole in November 2000, and commented on other recent finds.3 In the program the skin impressions of the 1985 find were likened to those of a crocodile on account of the pattern and osteoderms. The remains found in 2000 did not appear to have evidence of skin, but the specimen did show an almost complete skeleton with articulated bones, and even showing fossilized vegetable matter within its stomach. Using X-ray scanners, they were able to show that the tail vertebrae were insufficient for the animal to have been a strong swimmer, which confirmed the belief that Scelidosaurus was a terrestrial dinosaur. The program further discussed the presence of fossilized wood on the beach, which indicates the type of plants the animal may have consumed.
The main detective work of the C4 program was to consider how a terrestrial dinosaur might have become buried rapidly within marine sediment. Several ideas were put forward, but the hypothesis considered most feasible followed along the lines of Owen’s proposal. It was proposed that a family of these dinosaurs had been washed out to sea in a giant monsoon flood, and then buried rapidly in the sediment to preserve some of the incredible detail found, such as stomach contents and skin imprints. But inconsistently, natural scientists continue to date the layers in which the fossils were buried according to uniformitarian principles.
Scientific researchers have made good progress in their detective work in recognizing that these terrestrial dinosaurs were caught in a flood—their comment is that they must have been washed out to sea in a mega-monsoon, and then buried quickly in the thick marine sediment for good preservation to occur. This is similar to Owen’s conclusion. However, paleontologists continue to date the specimen according to uniformitarian principles, which is effectively based upon the assumption of gradual deposition.9
There would seem to be flawed logic in this approach: if it is necessary to use neo-catastrophism in order to account for the evidence, then uniformitarian assumptions utilized to date the layers in which they are found are no longer applicable. To assert in one breath that fossil specimens must have been buried rapidly because of the evidence, and then to date the strata in which they are buried with the assumption of gradual deposition, is inconsistent. Furthermore, it stretches credulity to believe that specimens found in the same geographic locality can be ascribed to two different periods (early Pliensbachian and late Sinemurian), which are believed to be separated by thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years. The evidence from the fossils is increasingly pointing to rapid burial through multiple layers, which should force a re-evaluation of the applied dating methods and techniques.
A more logical conclusion that can be reached is that the Jurassic coast layers (and we believe most other layers too) were deposited within a relatively short period of time, and that such a major catastrophe is consistent with the historically recorded Noahic flood.
References and notes
- Newman, B.H., The Jurassic dinosaur Scelidosaurus harrisoni, Owen, Palaeontology 11(1):40–43, 1968. Return to text.
- Owen, R., A Monograph of the Fossil Reptilia of the Liassic Formations, Part 1, Scelidosaurus harrisonii, Palaeontographical Society, London, pp. 1–14, 1861; and Owen, R., A Monograph of the Fossil Reptilia of the Liassic Formations, Part 2, Scelidosaurus harrisonii, Palaeontographical Society, London, pp. 1–26, 1863. p. 26: “the structure and proportions of the hind foot, for terrestrial rather than aquatic life, or at least for amphibious habits on the margin of a river rather than for pursuit of food in the open sea, I infer that the carcass of the dead animal has been drifted down a river, disemboguing in the Liassic Ocean, on the muddy bottom of which it would settle down when the skin had been so far decomposed as to permit the escape of the gases engendered by putrefaction. In that predicament the carcass would attract large carnivorous marine fishes and reptiles, and portions of the skin, with prominent parts not too strongly attached to the trunk, would probably be torn away before the weight of the bones had completely buried the carcass in the mud.” Return to text.
- Barrett, P.M. and Maidment, S.C.R., Dinosaurs of Dorset: part III—the ornithischian dinosaurs (Dinosauria, Ornithischia) with additional comments on the sauropods, Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society 132:145–163, 2011. Return to text.
- Delair, J.B., The Mesozoic reptiles of Dorset: part 2, Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society (for 1958) 80:52–90, 1959. Return to text.
- Ensom, P.C., Scelidosaur remains from the Lower Lias of Dorset, Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society 108:203–205, 1987; Ensom, P.C., New scelidosaur remains from the Lower Lias of Dorset, Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society 110:165–167, 1989. Return to text.
- Martill, D., Organically preserved dinosaur skin: Taphonomic and biological implications, Modern Geology 16(1–2):61–68, 1991. Return to text.
- Martill, D.M., Batten, D.J., and Loydell, D.K., A New Specimen of the Thyreophoran Dinosaur CF Scelidosaurus with Soft Tissue Preservation, Palaeontology 43(3):549–559, 2000. Return to text.
- This program, produced by RDF Media Ltd, had previously been shown on the 9 June 2002. Return to text.
- Geologists generally hold to actualism, not strict uniformitarianism, which allows for flood events of an order of magnitude known from recorded secular history, but this distinction doesn’t seem to have changed dating assumptions. Return to text.