NH Notes: Context is Key For Interpreting Large Fossil Find in Spain

One small site in Spain has yielded 1800 fossil bones from at least 18 species of extinct large animals. That is the update today about a fossil site that has been under investigation for 10 years.  The site represents one of the best sites for fossil carnivores because of the unique circumstances under which it is thought to have formed.  Similar to my previous post on “fossil” caves in South Africa (The frequently overlooked geological context of hominid fossils) this site represents what was a past sinkhole of sorts.  Similar pits that were simply a hidden hole that caused animals to accidentally fall in the pit would be expected to contain the bones of large numbers of herbivores rather than carnivores.  But rather than animals simply falling into this cave by accident and becoming preserved, this pit apparently had sides that suggested to carnivores that they could get into the pit and get out with the probable reward of water and prey/meat that could be obtained in the pit.   However, something about the pit caused many animals to not be able to escape thus sealing their fates.

A figure from the supplements of the reference in this post.  This is a diagram of a possible history of this cave/pit from the time it formed to its being completely filled.

A figure from the supplements of the reference in this post. This is a diagram of a possible history of this cave/pit from the time it formed to its being completely filled.  This pit was about 30 feet deep and the vast majority of the fossils are found in the lower parts of the filled material.

The result is a huge collection of bones that collected in sediments some 30 feet below the surface.  Over time the pit filled up with debris completely preserving their remains.  Today it has been excavated revealing the past history of this site.  The figure to the right shows a probably history of this pit.   What has been found are thousands of bones that belong to at least 18 different large species of mammals.  ALL of these mammals are extinct today though some resemble kinds of animals that are alive today. There is an ancient horse species that stood maybe 4 feet tall, several rhinoceros species, a bear dog which was a bear sized animal that looked like a dog but also had bear-like features and was likely neither a bear nor a dog, several large cat species, an ancient hyena species and multiple other hoofed animals.

Context is key for interpretation of fossils and, as a result, creationists  should find this site very challenging.

I probably sound like a broken record at this point but context is critical when coming at stories like this looking to place them into a young earth creationist’s context.   I expect that many YECs will hear of such fossil sites and remain blissfully unaware of how challenging sites such as this are to their worldview assumptions.  Being unaware isn’t necessarily all that bad but for YEC leaders it is especially troubling that they often are unaware of the challenges that sites such as these present to their own theories.   Conventional geology places these fossils as having formed somewhere around 10 million years ago with the collection of animals and filling of the cave to have taken place or tens if not hundreds of thousands of years.   This is obviously not going to work in the young earth timeline.  Where then do fossils such as these fit?

A depiction of the extinct bear dog (Amphicyon). This was one of 30 or more species of members of the bear-dog family that are all extinct.  Bones of bear dogs were found in the lower levels of this cave deposit.  Click on image for image credit.

A depiction of the extinct bear dog (Amphicyon). This was one of 30 or more species of members of the bear-dog family that are all extinct. Bones of bear dogs were found in the lower levels of this cave deposit. Click on image for image credit.

First, one has to consider that these fossils are found in sediments that were deposited inside a pit/cave.  Where did the cave come from in the first place?  A hole in the rock layers formed over time causing the overlying material to collapse.  The layers in which the cave formed are considered to me of Miocene age by geologists and as far as I can tell all creationists accept that these rock layers were formed AFTER a global flood rather than by a global flood.  So the deposits, which contain various types of rock representing different depositional environments had to form and turn to rock prior to the dissolution of the rock to form the cave.  The cave then had to cause a collapse before any animals could become trapped and preserved. The entire 30 foot deep cavern had to them fill up and turn to rock.  On top of all of this region has been occupied by modern people for 3000 years or more AFTER the this pit was completely filled.

Remains of this extinct horse, a Hipparion, were found in the cave deposits. This horse had 3 toes and was about 4-5 feet tall.

Remains of this extinct horse, a Hipparion, were found in the cave deposits. This horse had 3 toes and was about 4-5 feet tall.

It really boggles the mind to even try to produce a hypothesis about how all of this could have happened in just 4000 years. Even had the pit formed 4000 years ago, how did hundreds of carnivores become trapped in such a short period of time? There are sediments separating many of the bones suggesting animals died and were slowly buried by sediments that eroded from the pit wall and possibly from periodic floods that may have carried some material into the pit.  But these processes would have taken time. I could imagine a few animals a year would get trapped at best but then it would have taken 10s of thousands of years for the lower reaches of the pit to be filled with sediments.

Remains of this extinct deer-like animal were found in the deposits. Click for image source.

On top of all of the geological context we have the types of fossils found here that must be considered.  They are ALL extinct animals and they represent many animals that do not live anywhere in Europe today.  They represent what wa apparently a very distinct fauna of the past.  There are deer and horse-like creatures but not a single species, or even ones closely related, that we find today.  Relating this back to some of my previous posts we can see the horse succession here (A horse is a horse of course: unless it isn’t a horse) as there is a small “primitive horse” here and so even in the creationists timeline the horse trapped here has 3 toes and represents one of the early horses. The “bear dog” is a huge beast that shares features similar to bears and dogs.  Is this just an extinct “kind” that we don’t know today or it is really related by ancestry to either bears or dogs of today?

We see in these preserved cave remains a picture of an entire ecosystem that is quite foreign to anything that we would see today and yet all of these animals would, according to YEC chronology, have to have lived after a global flood to have been preserved in this particular location.  This timeline, as I’ve stated many time in other places, strains credulity. Unfortunately, fossil finds such as this one will either not be mentioned in the creationist literature or will be written about vaguely as being easily explained as an ice-age event that took place in a few hundred years but the specific geological context will not be mentioned.  A hear-no-evil see-no-evil approach has served Ham and friends well for a long time.  I don’t expect that will change anytime soon but I do feel for those that will eventually be exposed to places like this fossil site and creationists geology has ill-equipped them to explained how these fossils could have formed.

Origin of an Assemblage Massively Dominated by Carnivorans from the Miocene of Spain  Domingo MS, Alberdi MT, Azanza B, Silva PG, Morales J (2013) Origin of an Assemblage Massively Dominated by Carnivorans from the Miocene of Spain.PLoS ONE 8(5): e63046. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063046

Comments

  1. Peter Brevart says:

    Exactly what bear dog is in the figure? I couldn’t find it on Wikipedia.

    Like

    • Hi Peter, thanks for asking. I got my images mixed up and this wasn’t from Wikipedia so I have replaced it since I don’t have permission for use. The image I had used was of the genus Amphicyon and the image came from: http://es.prehistrico.wikia.com/wiki/Amphicyon. Looking at the Wikpedia page I was quite surprised to find that there are so many identified species in this extinct family. It seems like everyday I run across groups of animals that I was barely aware of.

      Like

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