May 10, 2010 | David F. Coppedge

Archaeopteryx Fossil Retains Original Soft-Tissue Material

We are usually told that fossils involve the complete replacement of original living material by rock, except in rare cases (such as amber), because organic material is quickly destroyed.  One of the most famous rock fossils is Archaeopteryx, the bird that has often been claimed to be a missing link from dinosaurs.  An international team used X-rays to probe one of the nine known specimens of Archaeopteryx.  To their surprise, they found original atoms from the feathers and bones of the animal still residing in the rock impressions – this after 150 million years has past since the bird died, according to the evolutionary chronology.
    Science Daily, the BBC News, and New Scientist all reported the paper that appeared in PNAS.1  The team, including scientists from Stanford Linear Accelerator Laboratory, Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Manchester, UK, used synchrotron rapid scanning X-ray fluorescence (SRS-XRF) to detect atomic species in the rock and the fossil impressions of the Thermopolis Archaeopteryx specimen.  Their color-coded map of the data shows enriched zinc and copper in the bone impressions relative to the rock, and enriched phosphorus and sulfur in the rachis [main stems] of the feather impressions.  They interpret these as remnants of original soft tissue from the specimen rather than leached material from the rock sediments: “Here we present chemical imaging,” they said, “… which shows that portions of the feathers are not impressions but are in fact remnant body fossil structures, maintaining elemental compositions that are completely different from the embedding geological matrix.”  This was the first detailed chemical analysis of this fossil ever performed, they said.  They referred to another study on dinosaur bone that supports “our most striking result: that elevated Zn levels associated with the skull and other bones have persisted over geological time and most likely, along with phosphorous and sulfur, are remnants of the original bone chemistry.”  The authors seemed to like that word “striking.”  They used it 4 times: e.g., “striking and previously unknown details about the chemical preservation of soft tissue, elemental distribution patterns most likely related to the organism’s life processes, insights into the chemistry of the fossilization process, and details of curation history.”
    The paper and the popular articles spoke of evolution in various ways.  The original paper had very little to say about it, other than some opening generalizations.  The abstract began, for instance, with “Evolution of flight in maniraptoran dinosaurs is marked by the acquisition of distinct avian characters, such as feathers, as seen in Archaeopteryx from the Solnhofen limestone.”  They did not elaborate on how the said acquisition of pennate flight feathers might have occurred by the unguided process of natural selection.  The opening sentence of the paper followed, saying, “Archaeopteryx are rare but occupy a pivotal place in the development of Darwinian evolution because of their possession of both reptilian (jaws with teeth and a long bony tail) and avian (feathered wings) characters.”  After that, the E-word did not appear further, except for a brief suggestion, without evidence, that Archaeopteryx appears transitional between dinosaurs and birds.
    Jeff Hecht at New Scientist, however, drew from this the notion that “Copper and zinc are key nutrients for living birds, and their presence in the fossil bones shows the evolutionary link with dinosaurs” – even though the original paper did not state such a thing.  He did quote Roy Wogelius [U of Manchester] of the team, saying, “It’s amazing that that chemistry is preserved after 150 million years,” and “There is soft-tissue chemistry preserved in places that people didn’t expect it.”  The BBC News referred twice to the fossil as a “snapshot of evolution” and called it “a ‘missing link’ that documents a fabulous transition from dinosaur to bird,” even though the paper was really not about evolution or dinosaurs at all.  Science Daily gave the story the misleading headline, “X-Rays Reveal Chemical Link Between Birds and Dinosaurs” when, again, the paper made no such claim.  Moreover, the article called it a “150-million year old ‘dinobird’ fossil” and claimed that “When the first Archaeopteryx specimen was uncovered a century and a half ago, just a year after Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, the discovery provided the strongest evidence yet for the theory of evolution.”  None of the popular articles dealt with the question whether preservation of original organic material from an animal as frail as a bird, which usually decays completely within days or weeks, is possible for 150 million years.  None considered whether finding such material should call into question the age of the specimen.


1.  Bergmann et al, “Archaeopteryx feathers and bone chemistry fully revealed via synchrotron imaging,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online before print May 10, 2010, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1001569107.

OK, readers; here’s the science, here’s the data, there’s the spin.  You are smart enough to decide.  Is it plausible that portions of the original bone and feathers of a bird have been sitting in this rock for 150 million years?  What kind of faith does it take to believe that?  Consider how long 150 million years is.  All of recorded human history – all the wars, battles, migrations, conquests, and population explosions – fits within 10,000 years or less.  That includes all the geological catastrophes (post-Flood, for creationists): all the volcanoes, tsunamis, Krakatoa, Mt. St. Helens, Vesuvius, and many more.  All the big floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes that people have written about fit within a thousandth of 1% of the time evolutionists are talking about.  Did that time even exist?
    Instead of asking such questions, instead of doubting their assumptions like good scientists should, instead of realizing that such discoveries are an assault on their core beliefs, evolutionists just waltz on forward proclaiming their myths as if nothing happened.  “Well, what do you know; soft tissue can be preserved for 150 million years, and isn’t it wonderful how Archaeopteryx is such a beautiful icon to hang at the shrine of the Bearded Buddha?  Guard – arrest that man!  He is not bowing deep enough – he might be a creationist!  Expel him lest he commit sacrilege in this sacred place!”

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Categories: Birds, Dinosaurs, Fossils

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