Conventional Grand Canyon wisdom holds two things to be true: it is exceptionally deep, and about five million years old. A new study, though, has pegged the yawning chasm’s age as more than 10 times older than previously thought.
So is the Grand Canyon really a 70 million-year-old dinosaur playground? Or is it the nubile young gorge we’ve always thought it to be? Scientists have strong opinions.
The new theory, put forth this week in Science by researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder and California Institute of Technology argues that 70 million years ago, back when Tyrannosaurses roamed the American West, a river flowing in the opposite direction of the Colorado carved the Grand Canyon into America’s fleshy middle. It also would have looked much different back then; more of a lush, vegetative, Land Before Time Great Valley than the arid, barren bowl we know today.
But not so fast, shout rival Grand Canyonologists. As the AP reports, there’s a good chance the new study could be poppycock:
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.
While this new study, published in Science, found traces of radioactive elements that indicate a prehistoric presence, the oldest gravel and sediment deposits found to date don’t go back further than six million years.
It’s the biggest Grand Canyon controversy since Clark Griswold wouldn’t sit a spell, but — as there usually is if you look hard enough — there might be a middle ground. As Utah State geologist/peacemaker Joel Pederson explained to the AP, both sides might be right. The groundwork for the Grand Canyon may have started tens of millions of years ago, while the mighty Colorado River took over six million years ago and finished the job.
Then again, maybe it’s more fun to pick a side. Me? I’m voting with the dinosaurs. Because dinosaurs. [NPR]
Image: David McNew/Getty Images