Fake Italian dragon, pterosaur or dog?


Engravings from Meyer's book of the fake Italian dragon

From World Science:

Killed twice in 1600s, hoax “dragon” slain again—in creationism dispute

May 8, 2013
Special to World Science

A “drag­on” thought to have turned up out­side Rome in the 1600s was killed once, or even twice, in the lo­cal lo­re of its day.

It then lay for­got­ten for three cen­turies—be­fore tak­ing on yet a new life, in the minds of some crea­t­ion­ists who saw in the tale com­pel­ling ev­i­dence for their be­liefs.

Two bi­ol­o­gists from Fay­ette­ville State Uni­vers­ity in North Car­o­li­na have now de­cid­ed to slay the beast once and for all, by do­ing some sleuthing to con­firm what many Ital­ians al­ready sus­pected way back then.

The drag­on was a hoax, they con­clude. Such ex­ist­ence as it had, they add, was based on a forgery com­posed of var­i­ous an­i­mal bones. In that sense it was not too un­like the fa­mous Pilt­down Man, a fake “early hu­man” con­sist­ing of the low­er jaw­bone of an orang­u­tan com­bined with a hu­man skull. That scheme was ex­posed in 1953.

The drag­on sto­ry as trans­mit­ted through old doc­u­ments has de­light­ed some crea­t­ion­ists be­cause they cite the mon­ster—en­grav­ings from the time in­clude a de­tailed skele­tal view—as proof that con­tra­ry to main­stream sci­ence, a fly­ing, rep­til­i­an cous­in of the di­no­saurs lived just re­cent­ly.

But the tale cap­ti­vat­ed Ital­ians long be­fore ar­gu­ments over ev­o­lu­tion. The sto­ry brings us back to about the time when the great sculp­tor-ar­chi­tect Gian Lo­ren­zo Ber­ni­ni re­built the fa­mous square in front of St. Pe­ter’s Ba­sil­i­ca in Rome, erect­ing its cel­e­brat­ed col­on­nade.

A cou­ple of dec­ades af­ter that proj­ect, ru­mors of the drag­on cropped up in con­nec­tion with an­oth­er, less fa­mous con­struc­tion near­by.

Ac­tu­al­ly, one pub­lished ver­sion of the drag­on tale ac­tu­ally dat­ed its “death” to the mid­dle of the St. Pe­ter’s Square proj­ect, in 1660. Yet ma­te­ri­al in an­oth­er book sug­gests that ru­mors of its sight­ing cir­cu­lat­ed about 1691, in the swamps out­side Rome where a di­ke was un­der con­struc­tion. Which­ev­er ver­sion might ac­cu­rately re­flect the “real” ru­mor, the lat­ter book is the one with the en­grav­ings.

This book, by an en­gi­neer in­volved with the di­ke, states that the drag­on was killed and pro­vides three de­light­ful en­graved il­lustra­t­ions. But it says lit­tle else on the sub­ject, ex­cept to men­tion that the beast was “was reco­vered in the hands of the en­gi­neer” him­self, one Cor­ne­li­us Mey­er. The book is mostly about di­ke con­struc­tion proj­ects around Rome.

De­tails on the bi­zarre rep­til­i­an tale are thus fog­gy. But the two bi­ol­o­gists, Pon­danesa D. Wil­kins and Phil Sen­ter, spec­u­late, based on the doc­u­ments, that a drag­on ru­mor be­came an ob­sta­cle to a di­ke con­struc­tion in 1691. Lo­cals or work­ers might have balked at the proj­ect, be­liev­ing a drag­on was on the loose in the ar­ea, per­haps one that was an­gry over the dis­turb­ance of its home. The beast was per­haps viewed as a res­ur­rec­tion of the same mon­ster writ­ten else­where to have died in 1660, al­so in the Rome ar­ea.

In any case, the bi­ol­o­gists pro­pose that Mey­er’s pub­lished “ev­i­dence” of the death in­clud­ing the en­grav­ings might have been part of an effort to fi­nally quell the ru­mors and keep the proj­ect afloat. A pa­per with their findings ap­pears in the May-August is­sue of the on­line re­search jour­nal Pa­lae­on­tolo­gia Elec­tron­ica.

The explanation for the engravings is that “Meyer chose not to invite op­position by ex­press­ing skepticism about the lo­cal rumor,” they argue. “In­stead, he wisely chose to avoid re­sist­ance by hu­moring the lo­cals… em­bracing the lo­cal rumor and pro­viding vi­sual evid­ence that their source of con­cern had been van­quished.”

Wil­kins and Sen­ter ar­gue that some­one likely cob­bled to­geth­er a fake skel­e­ton. This nat­u­rally found its way in­to some of those closely ob­served de­pic­tions for which Ital­ians had such a flair. In one of these en­grav­ings, the ske­l­e­ton ap­pears, prop­erly perched on a charm­ing ba­roque ped­es­tal.

All that re­mained was for Wil­kins and Sen­ter to fig­ure out just what went in­to this “skel­e­ton.” In­ter­est­ingly “the en­grav­ing is de­tailed enough to test” the view that it’s a real pter­o­saur, the re­search­ers wrote.

The con­clu­sions from their analysis are cut­ting.

“The skull of Mey­er’s drag­on is that of a do­mes­tic dog,” they write. “The man­di­ble is that of a sec­ond, smaller do­mes­tic dog. The ‘hindlimb’ is the fore­limb of a bear. The ribs are from a large fish. Os­ten­si­ble skin hides the junc­tions be­tween the parts of dif­fer­ent an­i­mals. The tail is a sculpted fake. The wings are fake and lack di­ag­nos­tic traits of bat wings and pter­o­saur wings. No part of the ske­l­e­ton re­sem­bles its coun­ter­part in pter­o­saurs.”

“This piece of young-Earth crea­t­ion­ist ‘ev­i­dence’ there­fore now joins the ranks of oth­er dis­cred­ited ‘ev­i­dence’ for hu­man-pter­o­saur coex­ist­ence and against the ex­ist­ence of the pas­sage of mil­lions of years,” Wil­kins and Sen­ter add. “Also, a three-century-old hoax is fi­nally un­veiled, the mys­tery of its con­struc­tion is solved, and an in­ter­est­ing and bi­zarre ep­i­sode in Ren­ais­sance Ital­ian histo­ry is elucidat­ed.”

Skep­ti­cism over the drag­on yarn is far from new. The con­tem­po­rary Ger­man au­thor George Kirch­meyer re­counts that the “fly­ing ser­pent” was sup­posedly “killed by a hunt­er af­ter a se­vere and dan­ger­ous strug­gle”; but “this sto­ry, which ap­peared more like some fa­ble than real truth, was a sub­ject of dis­cus­sion among the learn­ed. The cir­cum­stance was de­nied by many, be­lieved by oth­ers, and left in doubt by sev­er­al.”

Two crea­t­ion­ists who have cho­sen to join the be­liev­ers are the au­thors John Go­ertzen and Da­vid Woet­zel, who penned 1998 and 2006 pa­pers on the sub­ject, re­spec­tive­ly.

“This study helps to es­tab­lish the re­cent ex­ist­ence of rham­phorhyn­choid pter­o­saurs; an­i­mals that main­stream sci­ence be­lieves be­came ex­tinct about 140 mil­lion years ago,” Go­ertzen wrote in his pa­per, which ap­peared in the Pro­ceed­ings of the Fourth In­terna­t­ional Con­fer­ence on Crea­t­ion.

Crea­t­ion­ists claim that the Bi­ble proves Earth is only a few thou­sand years old. Thus things like di­no­saurs, which died out 65 mil­lion years ago, pose a prob­lem for crea­t­ion­ists.

Woet­zel did not re­spond to an e­mail sent through his web­site re­quest­ing com­ment.

Go­ertzen could not be lo­cat­ed via e­mail or tel­e­phone, with none of his sev­er­al pa­pers on­line pro­vid­ing con­tact in­forma­t­ion. How­ev­er, his 1998 pa­per on the drag­on ar­gued that the Ital­ian drag­on tale was not the only piece of ev­i­dence for its re­cent ex­ist­ence.

“The re­mark­a­ble thing about this an­i­mal is that it was de­picted in sev­er­al cul­tures of an­ti­qu­ity. Ar­ti­facts iden­ti­fied with this in­ter­est­ing pter­o­saur spe­cies in­clude Roman-Alex­and­rian coins, an Ara­bia-Phil­istia coin, a French wood carv­ing, a Ger­man stat­ue and coin, sev­er­al Mid­dle Ages pic­ture maps, and an en­light­en­ing sketch of a mount­ed an­i­mal in Rome.”

See also here.

Grand Canyon, from the dinosaur age?


This video from the USA is called National Geographic – Amazing Flight Over The Grand Canyon.

During the George W Bush administration, there was pressure on scientists to be silent on the fact that the Grand Canyon is much older than the few thousand years of the Great Flood mentioned in the Bible. That flood made the canyon, according to creationists.

All geologists agree that the Grand Canyon is older than five million years. They don’t agree on how much older it is.

Just a few years?

Is it twenty million years old?

Or still older? Today, from Associated Press:

December 3, 2012 at 1:00 am

Controversial study contends Grand Canyon old as dinosaur era

By Alicia Chang

Los Angeles — The awe-inspiring Grand Canyon was probably carved about 70 million years ago, much earlier than thought, a provocative new study suggests.

Using a new dating tool, a team of scientists came up with a different age for the gorge’s western section, challenging conventional wisdom that much of the canyon was scoured by the mighty Colorado River in the last 5 million to 6 million years.

Not everyone is convinced with the latest viewpoint published online last week in the journal Science. Critics contend the study ignores a mountain of evidence pointing to a geologically young landscape and they have doubts about the technique used to date it.

The notion that the Grand Canyon existed during the dinosaur era is “ludicrous,” said geologist Karl Karlstrom of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

How the Grand Canyon became grand — with its vertical cliffs and flat plateaus — has been debated since John Wesley Powell navigated the whitewater rapids and scouted the sheer walls during his 1869 expedition.

Some 5 million tourists flock to Arizona each year to marvel at the 277-mile-long chasm, which plunges a mile deep in some places. It’s a geologic layer cake with the most recent rock formations near the rim stacked on top of older rocks that date back 2 billion years.

Doubting the process

Though the exposed rocks are ancient, most scientists believe the Grand Canyon itself was forged in the recent geologic past, created when tectonic forces uplifted the land that the Colorado River later carved through.

The new work by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder and California Institute of Technology argued that canyon-cutting occurred long before that. They focused on the western end of the Grand Canyon occupied today by the Hualapai Reservation, which owns the Skywalk attraction, a horseshoe-shaped glass bridge that extends from the canyon’s edge.

To come up with the age, the team crushed rocks collected from the bottom of the canyon to analyze a rare type of mineral called apatite. The mineral contains traces of radioactive elements that release helium during decay, allowing researchers to calculate the passage of time since the canyon eroded.

Their interpretation: The western Grand Canyon is 70 million years old and was likely shaped by an ancient river that coursed in the opposite direction of the west-flowing Colorado.

Lead researcher Rebecca Flowers of the University of Colorado Boulder realizes not everyone will accept this alternative view, which minimizes the role of the Colorado River.

“Arguments will continue over the age of Grand Canyon, and I hope our study will stimulate more work to decipher the mysteries,” Flowers said in an email.

More number disputes

It’s not the first time that Flowers has dug up evidence for an older Grand Canyon. In 2008, she wrote a study that suggested part of the eastern Grand Canyon, where most tourists go, formed 55 million years ago. Another study published that same year by a different group of researchers put the age of the western section at 17 million years old.

If the Grand Canyon truly existed before dinosaurs became extinct, it would have looked vastly different because the climate back then was more tropical. Dinosaurs that patrolled the American West then included smaller tyrannosaurs, horned and dome-headed dinosaurs and duckbills.

If they peered over the rim, it would not look like “the starkly beautiful desert of today, but an environment with more lush vegetation,” said University of Maryland paleontologist Thomas Holtz.

Many scientists find it hard to imagine an ancient Grand Canyon since the oldest gravel and sediment that washed downstream date to about 6 million years ago and there are no signs of older deposits.

And while they welcome advanced dating methods to decipher the canyon’s age, Karlstrom of the University of New Mexico does not think the latest effort is very accurate.

See also here.

Grand Canyon is not so ancient. Parts of famous chasm are tens of millions of years old, but integration happened more recently: here.

A scar on the Grand Canyon: Plans for mega hotel, retail complex, cable car, walkway and housing development threatens one of the natural wonders of the world: here.

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United States religious Right pseudo-science


This video from the USA is called Sarah Palin Thinks Humans & Dinosaurs Co-Existed.

From the National Memo in the USA:

Weird Science: Six ‘Scientific’ Theories That Right-Wingers Insist Are True

August 24th, 2012 11:08 pm

Jason Sattler

Mike Huckabee isn’t the only conservative now defending Todd Akin (R-MO) — who is still running to replace Claire McCaskill (D-MO) in the U.S. Senate. Huckabee and other religious right leaders within the GOP insist that Akin is right — although many of the party’s leading figures — including the party’s presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus — asked Akin to withdraw after the congressman said that victims of “legitimate rape” can’t get pregnant.

Conservapedia – the right-wing alternative to Wikipedia – not only supports Akin, but has published a footnoted reference that defends Akin’s scientific prognosis about “legitimate rape” victims — something that only Rep. Steve King (R-IA), of all elected Republicans, has attempted to do so far. “In the experience of most sexual assault centers, the chance of pregnancy occurring is quite low,” says Conservapedia, quoting from “the classic text book by Lentz.” It’s a text that American women impregnated by rape — estimated between 25,000 and 32,000 victims annually — would surely dispute.

Rewriting science to fit a political agenda is a constant complaint conservatives voice about liberals. Yet the left believes in the academic discipline of rigorous peer review. The right continually relies on literal interpretations of the Bible and pseudo-science, which is the only way you’d ever buy any of the following theories.

Dinosaurs existed at the same time as humans, and still exist

You may know that in the state of Louisiana students are being taught that the Loch Ness Monster is real. The belief that dinosaurs existed at the same time as mankind — and still may exist today — is crucial to “New Earth Creationism,” which posits that the earth – as the Bible says – is only six thousand years old. How else would you explain these recent dinosaur sightings in Papua New Guinea?

South Korean state creationism


This video from the USA says about itself:

We hear the same Creationist arguments SO OFTEN, we decided to assemble our 10 favorites and address them here. Feel free to use this video as a response to the Creationists in your circle.

The present hardline Right government in South Korea is not very good for science.

From Nature:

South Korea surrenders to creationist demands

Publishers set to remove examples of evolution from high-school textbooks.

Soo Bin Park

05 June 2012

Seoul

Mention creationism, and many scientists think of the United States, where efforts to limit the teaching of evolution have made headway in a couple of states. But the successes are modest compared with those in South Korea, where the anti-evolution sentiment seems to be winning its battle with mainstream science.

A petition to remove references to evolution from high-school textbooks claimed victory last month after the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) revealed that many of the publishers would produce revised editions that exclude examples of the evolution of the horse or of avian ancestor Archaeopteryx. The move has alarmed biologists, who say that they were not consulted. “The ministry just sent the petition out to the publishing companies and let them judge,” says Dayk Jang, an evolutionary scientist at Seoul National University.

The campaign was led by the Society for Textbook Revise (STR), which aims to delete the “error” of evolution from textbooks to “correct” students’ views of the world, according to the society’s website. The society says that its members include professors of biology and high-school science teachers.

The STR is also campaigning to remove content about “the evolution of humans” and “the adaptation of finch beaks based on habitat and mode of sustenance”, a reference to one of the most famous observations in Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. To back its campaign, the group highlights recent discoveries that Archaeopteryx is one of many feathered dinosaurs, and not necessarily an ancestor of all birds. Exploiting such debates over the lineage of species “is a typical strategy of creation scientists

rather: pseudo-scientists

to attack the teaching of evolution itself”, says Joonghwan Jeon, an evolutionary psychologist at Kyung Hee University in Yongin.

In a 2009 survey conducted for the South Korean documentary The Era of God and Darwin, almost one-third of the respondents didn’t believe in evolution. Of those, 41% said that there was insufficient scientific evidence to support it; 39% said that it contradicted their religious beliefs; and 17% did not understand the theory. The numbers approach those in the United States, where a survey by the research firm Gallup has shown that around 40% of Americans do not believe that humans evolved from less advanced forms of life.