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.
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.