Feb 15 2011 1:48pm

Did Some Dinosaurs Survive Their Mass Extinction?


Regardless of whether you're a firm believer in the Alvarez hypothesis or prefer theories about increased volcanism leading to the death of tons of prehistoric lizards, one certainty might now be in question: that dinosaurs didn't live more than a few generations past these events. In fact, it’s possible that some of the dinosaurs may have survived as long as 700,000 years past the date of their previously established mass extinction. (To put that in perspective, we only just emerged from the Stone Age a few thousand years ago.)

The new theory revolves around a relatively unorthodox system for dating fossils being employed by researchers at the University of Alberta in New Mexico. The team, lead by Larry Heaman, uses a direct-dating method called U-pb (uranium-lead) dating to determine the age of the fossils they unearth. Basically, they shoot a laser beam into the fossil to unseat tiny particles, which they then in turn subject to isotopic analysis.

This dating method is in stark contrast to chronology (or relative) dating, the more traditional method used by most paleontologists.  This system relies upon determining a fossil’s age by examining the layer of sediment in which it was found. The team of researchers at U of A believes their method is more accurate because fossils may drift from their original placement in the strata, thus causing surrounding sediment to be misleading.

The fossil in question is from a hadrosaur’s femur bone, meaning that if this team is correct, a duck-billed dinosaur was roaming around 700 millennia after most other dinosaurs were dead!

What’s it all mean? We’ll have to wait and see.

[via Science Daily]

Stubby the Rocket is the mascot of Tor.com and tends to be the handle for many of the staff. Stubby was not responsible for the death of the dinosaurs despite being in the solar system around that same time.

Laura Southcott
1. tallgrass
But we already know some dinosaurs survived the mass extinction. We just call them birds.
Steve Oerkfitz
2. SteveOerkfitz
Or as possible future Presidential candidates Huckabee and Palin would say-nonesense since the earth is only a little over 6,000 years old.
Phil Frederick
3. flosofl
Damn, tallgrass beat me to it. With Utah Raptor, the line became very blurry as to when it was no longer a dinosaur and in fact a bird.

If you want some pictures of birds that are not so far removed from their dinosaur ancestors, google for pictures of ostriches and emus.
Paul Howard
4. DrakBibliophile
Steve, leave the politics out.

In anycase, Young Earth Creationists are a very small group among people who do believe God created the world.
Ben H
5. dripgrind
Calling dinosaurs lizards is just another form of racism.
Ben H
6. dripgrind
Also, I love that *dinosaurs* are a politically controversial subject in the USA. Huckabee believes that God created the Heavens and the Earth, but he (Huckabee) doesn't know how He did it, because he wasn't there. So presumably Huckabee will only accept as fact things that he has directly witnessed himself. Good luck with that for your President: "I don't have a position on the Chinese invasion of Taiwan because I've only seen it on TV."

The sooner US hegemony dwindles, the better. Let your Empire crumble like so many dinosaur bones.
7. CalMan
The University of Alberta's in, um, Alberta. Not New Mexico.

The name. Dead giveaway.
8. CalMan
Sorry to sound so snarky, Stubby - thought that I was posting somewhere else.
9. Craig1
Leave the religion out of this science discussion. f y'r fth htr, n nd t rvl yr bs... y'r jst mkng yrslvs lk vn mr hypcrtcl.
10. DarrenJL
@CalMan - They do get research grants. A UofA team in New Mexico.

@Craig1 - Faith is belief in the absence of evidence. Belief despite overwhelming evidence is not faith, it is denial. Got nothing against faith. Not too fond of science haters, though.
11. Earleens
Ds nyn knw hw t sy LBRL PRDJDC?
YouDont NeedToKnow
12. necrosage2005
But dinosaurs DIDN'T die out... well not all of them, at least. These days we just happen to call them alligators, crocodiles, scorpions, octopi, coelacanths, and quite a few other names for animals that were alive not only while dinosaurs lived, but also existed long before them.

Just like I believe that there really should be a separation between Church and State, I also think that there should be a similar separation between those and science and science fiction.
13. Leo Petr
@necrosage: Your definition of dinosaur is overly broad. "Dinosaur" is not a synonym for "prehistoric creature".

Birds are the only modern group descended from dinosaurs.

Alligator and crocodiles are regular reptiles. Yes, crocodilians do predate dinosaurs, but so do mammals (or at least mammal-like reptiles).

Coelacanths are fish. Scorpions and octopodes are inverterbrates (looking up which invertebrate grouping they belong to is left as an exercise for the reader).

Yes, the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction only killed off 75% or so of the species. However, those 75% of species include all dinosaurs save for birds.
Greg Morrow
14. gpmorrow
@Flosofl, the traditional definition of Aves is the common ancestor of Archeopteryx and modern birds and all descendants. That would exclude all the deinonychids, I believe. Feathers are basal to coelurosaurs, but feathers don't make the bird. Anymore.
15. James Davis Nicoll
Alligator and crocodiles are regular reptiles.

Actually, they are archosaurs, a group that includes crocodilians, birds, (maybe pterosaurs) and dinosaurs. Obviously the two surviving lineages have diverged considerably but they are each others closest living relatives.
16. James Davis Nicoll
In fact, a lot of Earth's history over the last few hundred million years is the struggle between the perfidious archosaurs and the noble therapists for the Top Tetrapod slot. Therapists did fairly well in the Permian despite looking like something God created immediately after a two week bathtub gin and methamphetamine bender but then tragedy struck and the archosaurs enjoyed 160 million years of dominance . Happily, a providential meteor put an end to this cruel tryanny and gave therapids a chance to escape the small and crunchy niches.

1: Ignoring what the insects and such were up to.
17. James Davis Nicoll
Therapists did fairly well in the Permian

Therapsids! Therapsids! Therapists are a late arrival.

The incremental improvement in tetrapod grace and beauty over the last 300 or so million years is quite striking. I expect this will accelerate during the anthropocene, especially in parallel with the chibification effect: after millions years of humans and human derivatives running things, everything we don't exterminate will adhere to our concepts of utility, beauty and grace or will be cute and cuddly to a nigh-lovecraftian degree.

I leave to the reader the implications re: predators and what will be the most common potential prey animal.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
18. tnh
James Nicoll, mixing up Therapists and Therapsids is easily the finest typo I've seen in years. I only regret that Robert Legault isn't here to see it.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
19. tnh
Craig1 @9, it is inappropriate to label those who disagree with you as "faith haters," and accuse them of bias and hypocrisy. You may dispute facts or argue about opinions, but you may not impugn their motives.

Earleens @11, please refrain from using "liberal" as a general term of opprobrium in discussions that have nothing to do with liberalism or related issues. I also suggest you lean how to spell "prejudice."

You'll both find that there are vowels missing from your earlier comments. Consider it a learning experience.
20. Raskos
@tnh 18. -

And if you'd been reading the Guardian about thirty years ago you'd have seen a fairly long discussion in its pages of the Age of Therapists, when therapists ruled the Earth, and of the great mystery behind their extinction so many millions of years ago.

There, I suspect, it was a real typo - the Graudain was apparently notorious for them. Carried off with great consistency and flair, as I recall.
22. Athena Andreadis
Besides points brought up by previous commenters, the analogy that humans emerged from the stone age a few thousand years ago falsely inflates a distinction created artificially by the poster. As a species and a genus, we've been around far longer than that.

Also misleading is the term "stark contrast" because stratigraphy and radiometry do not return contradictory data (nor is radiometry a new, revolutionary technique -- it's been in use for a while). Besides, all methods have limitations, inherent biases and potential for artifacts. Finally, the New Scientist is not known as a beacon for peer-reviewed science.

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