One expert says the remains found in a prehistoric ocean graveyard in Nevada could be from a mythical sea monster called "krakens." National Geographic reports these krakens are based on centuries-old sightings of giant squid or octopuses.
About 350 miles outside of Las Vegas is Berlin-Ichthyosaurs State Park where fossils dating back 200 million years (or a few thousand if you are a creationist) have been found. The area used to be the ocean floor.
On a recent trip, Mark McMenamin, a paleontologist at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, noticed that some of the vertebrate fossils of an ichthyosaurs, which was a large marine reptile that resembled fish and dolphins, appeared to be neatly lined up into double rows.
This struck McMenamin as odd, so he came up with a theory which he presented at a meeting of the Geological Society of America in Colorado on Monday.
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National Geographic writes:
McMenamin's hypothesis: that a giant squid or octopus hunted and preyed on the ichthyosaurs and then arranged their bones in double-line patterns to purposely resemble the pattern of sucker discs on the predator's tentacles.
According to a press release detailing McMenamin's hypothesis—titled "Giant Kraken Lair Discovered"— "the vertebral disc 'pavement' seen at the state park may represent the earliest known self portrait."
However other experts are calling this theory odd.
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Paul "P.Z." Myers, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Minnesota Morris, said the idea is a "bizarre and miraculous story" and said the evidence is "weirdly circumstantial."
The fossil arrangement "is not surprising," Myers said. "It doesn't take an artist octopus to do it."
Myers said after the ichthyosaurs died and their bodies rotted, the vertebrae fell apart. The bones "are taller than they are wide, so they're just going to flop over to one side or the other and can just happen to fall into two parallel rows," which then get preserved as fossils.
Another expert who has worked at the Nevada site is also dubious.
"It's fun to think about," said paleontologist Ryosuke Motani of the University of California, Davis, "but I think it's very implausible."