Were the corpses of Nevada ichthyosaurs artistically arranged by an enormous cephalopod
? No, seriously:
"It became very clear that something very odd was going on there," said McMenamin. "It was a very odd configuration of bones."
First of all, the different degrees of etching on the bones suggested that the shonisaurs were not all killed and buried at the same time. It also looked like the bones had been purposefully rearranged. That it got him thinking about a particular modern predator that is known for just this sort of intelligent manipulation of bones. "Modern octopus will do this," McMenamin said. What if there was an ancient, very large sort of octopus, like the kraken of mythology. "I think that these things were captured by the kraken and taken to the midden and the cephalopod would take them apart.....
Even more creepy: The arranged vertebrae resemble the pattern of sucker discs on a cephalopod tentacle, with each vertebra strongly resembling a coleoid sucker. In other words, the vertebral disc "pavement" seen at the state park may represent the earliest known self portrait.
I've enjoyed a couple visits to Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park over the years, but the next trip will be seriously enlivened by the possibility that it's a fossilized kraken lair.
Update: In the unlikely event the exercise is beyond any of our readers, National Geographic and Pharyngula take some Occam's razor to this story. They focus on the self-portrait idea, though, which is pretty damn out there, but don't much mention the the notion of the midden, which seems much less bonkers, even if it's not overly endowed with evidence.
Labels: cephalopods, oceans, paleontology, the West