Jurassic Pork: What Could a Jewish Time Traveler Eat?
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Paleontologists use multiple methods to reconstruct the anatomy and behavior of extinct animals, including direct observations from well-preserved fossils and inferences from the phylogeny of modern and extinct relatives. We illustrate these techniques by reference to the biblical definitions of kosher and non-kosher animals; that is, how can we apply these approaches to the hypothetical question of whether an extinct form would have been kosher. The biblical categories do not readily map to modern understandings of systematics, but are heavily based on life mode. When given, distinguishing characteristics, such as the presence of fins and scales in aquatic animals, can be readily seen directly in fossils. In other cases, such as cud chewing, they need to be inferred from the phylogenetic relationships of the fossil forms. Dinosaurs (other than birds), unfortunately, are not kosher. A kosher “paleo diet” would be increasingly difficult further in the past. The use of biblical content as a way of introducing concepts from paleontology and evolutionary biology, such as crown groups and stem groups, should be of broad interest.