And, like the space program, it also has its critics who believe that the subject is a hoax and waste of money and that dinosaurs never existed. However, the web sites I've found that discuss the hoax angle mostly seem to be written from a religious perspective even though they may also contain some quite interesting secular arguments as well like this site.
Since religion is a personal, faith-based activity with many divergent views in and of itself, I thought I would try starting a thread for discussion of this subject that excludes religious concepts and focuses in on secular ideas and observations that everyone can ponder, discuss and hopefully agree on.
So, confining our discussion to non-religious factors ...
Is there a dinosaur hoax? Did dinosaurs really exist or not? Are dinosaurs yet another pseudo-scientific scam? If so, what might be the means and motives?
Since the subject is regarded by the public with much the same reverence as the space program, I have lately been reading up on it with a skeptical eye. I haven't yet reached a solid conclusion as to whether they did or didn't exist but I currently suspect it is somewhere in between those two extremes and probably closer to the latter than the former.
Looking into this subject has revealed some odd, improbable and in some cases absurd (to me) information put forth as scientific fact and I thought I'd note a few of these to see if anyone else is interested enough to discuss or contribute their own views.
"The first nearly complete North American dinosaur skeleton"
We're told that the first North American discovery of a dinosaur skeleton which “proved dinosaurs were real” was by William Parker Foulke in 1858. It seems that 20 years earlier a man named Hopkins found some large animal bones in a marl pit in New Jersey and had them on display in his home. Foulke learned of this and went to the site and allegedly pulled out “the first nearly complete skeleton of a dinosaur” called a Hadrosaurus. This skeleton became the first to be put on public display and caused quite a sensation.
However, it turns out that the skull used in the initial display was a fake one that was manufactured using an iguana skull as a model. The fake iguana type skull was later replaced with a duck bill type skull which is now said to belong to another dinosaur (in other words it's fake too) and ... well this is what the above link has to say about it …
“ Above is the full-size Hadrosaurus mount currently on display at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton. The posture is now recognized as incorrect. At the same time the skeleton is fitted with the wrong skull of another type of duck-bill dinosaur. Signs at the exhibit acknowledge that both the mounted skeleton as well as nearby illustrated depictions of what the living animal looked like are both wrong. Both are slated for correction at some unspecified future date.”
So, the landmark dinosaur skeleton that “proved to the world that dinosaurs are real” is acknowledged as a misrepresentation and they can't even say when the errors will be corrected? But, it's still on display to the public anyway? I guess the paleontological world is just too busy with TV appearances to fix this supposedly historic and hugely significant find that paved the way for dino science.
Or, might this admitted misrepresentation with its odd "unspecified future date" of correction be because they simply can't fix it? Perhaps because then they'd have to publicly acknowledge that the whole thing is a fake? How would it look if the history making “discovery” that founded their science turned out to be a phoney?
BTW, this is what a Hadrosaurus is supposed to have looked like ...
… which brings up another point that bothers me about dinosaurs ...
Many of them are depicted as having this same sort of body layout with most of the animal's weight ahead of its center of gravity and tiny, nearly useless-looking forelegs. Is it just me or does this seem absurd to anyone else? Dino scientists tell us that such animals used their tails to balance out their weight so they could stay upright. In other words, they had to keep their tails sticking out horizontally when they walked around to keep from toppling over. Does this seem likely? Are any current animals built this way and walk around doing a balancing act with their tails held out just to stay on their feet? Isn't it hard enough to find food and a mate and care for one's young and keep from being eaten to have to do this balancing act all the time? Falling over at the wrong time can be fatal. What if they had to swing their tails to defend themselves? Wouldn't they then just fall over? I'm having a hard time accepting this and believing that so many animals allegedly built this way could have survived for millions of years.
OK, we have this term "fossilization." Dinosaur bones are fossils which means they are fossilized. But, what does that mean? Fossilization is a process which is described in simple terms here.
Some animals were quickly buried after their death (by sinking in mud, being buried in a sand storm, etc.).
- Over time, more and more sediment covered the remains.
The parts of the animals that didn't rot (usually the harder parts likes bones and teeth) were encased in the newly-formed sediment.
- In the right circumstances (no scavengers, quick burial, not much weathering), parts of the animal turned into fossils over time.
- After a long time, the chemicals in the buried animals' bodies underwent a series of changes. As the bone slowly decayed, water infused with minerals seeped into the bone and replaced the chemicals in the bone with rock-like minerals. The process of fossilization involves the dissolving and replacement of the original minerals in the object with other minerals (and/or permineralization, the filling up of spaces in fossils with minerals, and/or recrystallization in which a mineral crystal changes its form).
- This process results in a heavy, rock-like copy of the original object - a fossil. The fossil has the same shape as the original object, but is chemically more like a rock! Some of the original hydroxy-apatite (a major bone consitiuent) remains, although it is saturated with silica (rock).
So, in most cases the remains of ancient animals must have been fossilized to be dug up in modern times. There are evidently a few exceptions to that but those are rare.
Fossils, then, are basically bones that have turned into a sort of rock. They are rocks that mimic the form of a bone that is now long gone. Many of the dino bones on display in museums are bone-shaped rocks essentially. The problem I have with this is that, according to many cable TV “science” shows I have watched over the years, these dinosaur fossils are often found embedded in rock. So, we're talking about digging out rocks imbedded in rock and we must trust that those who prepared these fossils for display have correctly carved away the non-bone rock from the real bone rock. But, in our hoax-filled world of fake science, doesn't this rock-in-rock situation make it rather easy for creative interpretations of what the animal really looked like? And, once a particular animal is “approved” by the gods of the scientific community, wouldn't all subsequent representations of that same animal have to conform with that standard?
I admit this is purely my own skeptical conjecture but I think it's important to consider any possible means of fakery when investigating these topics. In addition to this possibility of creative dino rock carving there is also the possibility of substitution of non-dinosaur bones. For example, here is a photo that purports to show the infamous foot claw of the velociraptor, made famous by the Jurassic Park movies (the big one on the right):
Compare that with the claws of several varieties of modern-day North American bears:
Wouldn't a bear claw fossil look an awful lot like a velociraptor claw fossil? And, wouldn't both of them be rocks? And, a few quick web image searches will also show you that dinosaur spines and ribs look a lot like those of a whale. Dino foot bones resemble those of crocodiles or large lizards. Leg bones of one animal look much like leg bones on many other animals. All a faker would really need is a good skull to complete the animal and many dino exhibits admit that at least part and in many cases, all of many dino skulls are fabricated anyway since complete skulls are very rare.
So, again, I'm just conjecturing here to show that fakery in this field is possible, especially since dino remains seem to be mostly discovered and processed by publicly funded museums and government subsidized expeditions and that fossil hunting is mostly carried out on government controlled land by government licensed, institution-connected persons.