Another remarkable fossils find has been reported in the past few days. This involves 15 complete or nearly complete fossils of juvenile dinosaurs all preserved in what is apparently a large 2-3 foot wide nest. I have obtained the original journal article that described this fossil find in detail. The paper “A nest of Protoceratops andrewsi (Dinosauria, Ornithischia)” by Fastovsky et al. 2011 in the Journal of Paleontology Vol 85:1035-1041 described the evidence that these dinosaurs were juveniles, that they were all likely the same age and thus were of one brood and were all huddled in the same nest. The significance of this for dinosaur biology is that it evidence that dinosaurs received some parental care after hatching. There is no egg-shell material in the nest and it could be that these juveniles were at least several weeks old. This isn’t just because no egg-shells remained but also because the bones were larger than those found of other fossils of the same species found inside of eggs and so growth of the dinosaurs after hatching is very likely. So unlike reptiles which hatch and are almost always immediately on their own at least some dinosaurs seem to care for their young. This isn’t the first evidence of such behavior but it some of the clearest evidence.
But how where they preserved? The paper discusses in some detail the evidence that these baby dinosaurs were covered by a fast moving sand storm. The evidence includes grain size in the sedimentary rock and the fact that it is not in flat layers but in angled layers like in a sand dune as it covered the next. The way the sediments were laid down the direction the wind was blowing the sand could be determined and the fossils were oriented as if the dinosaurs had their backs turned toward the wind to protect themselves as much as possible.
I am sure that within days Answers in Genesis and other creationists sites will be claiming these fossils as obvious evidence of a global catastrophe. Now, obviously this is a case of rapid burial as there is little reason to believe that so many young dinosaurs of the same age would die in the same place and all oriented in the same direction in a nest. But rapid burial doesn’t necessitate the jump to global flood. A watery death seems unlikely given that all 15 of these dinosaurs are in one nest, are of the same age (they didn’t just get washed there), and they are their orientation with the grains of what is now rock. A flood whether placid or violent would not be expected to cause this kind of preservation.
Irrespective of a watery or sandy death, the presence of a nest with juveniles in it presents a far greater challenge to a global flood explanation. Dinosaur nests have always been a problem because, just like this one, they are typically found in layers of rock that are sitting on top of 1000s of feet of sedimentary rock. Young earth creationists hypothesize that these layers of fossil-bearing rocks are the result of a global flood but most also believe that that same global flood destroyed the dinosaurs. If this is the case then how then could so many thousands of discovered dinosaur nests with eggs in them (see image for an example) be found in layers in the upper portion of the fossil record?
The explanation is almost hard for me to type it is so unbelievable. Generally what is described is a global flood in which dinosaurs have run from one place to another to escape flood waters. What is important to note here is that for most young earth creationists a global flood didn’t entirely cover the globe all at the same time but covered only portions at a time. I guess there were large tsunamis that went around the earth bringing destruction in one place but allowing for some habitable land in others even during the 40 days and after. So dinosaurs managed to hang on for a long time and then after 5000 feet of sediments were laid down in Mongolia some of them quickly migrated onto the new sediments and many of them were pregnant and laid their eggs in tens of thousands of nests. Sometime later the next wave of the global flood came and covered these nest and killed the adults so that none were allowed to survive the flood and only those that were on Noah’s ark.
As challenging as this might be to believe, here we have an example that challenges even that very elaborate explanation for nests and eggs in the fossil record. In this case the eggs were laid,hatched and the dinosaurs grew for some time before being buried. And yet all of this still happened in the middle of a global flood! I don’t know what the incubation time of dinosaur eggs was but I doubt they hatched the day after they were laid so this probably means there were several months of time from nest building to burial. But for young earth creationists this needs to have occurred during the year of the Flood as there are layers of sediments on top of these sites that eroded, in their theory, by the waters receding from the earth. And don’t forget that there are preserved dinosaur eggs on all the continents so this Flood that was causing world-wide destruction must have had rather placid intervening periods on every continent where animals that had escaped all the initial destruction would settle down and attempt to reproduce before they met their apparent demise. Invariably I find that Christians only hear the about huge fossils finds and are rarely told the details or any specific theories about how these fossils may have come to be. Somehow I think that if the lay Christian where to hear the elaborate explanations of young earth creationists for fossils like these eggs that they would not find their explanations particularly compelling.