Bird Flew Over Dinosaurs
An exceptionally-preserved fossil bird could be mistaken for a modern agile flyer—except it’s dated early Cretaceous.
This will put new stress on theories of bird evolution. Science Daily just published this bombshell headline: “Tiny ancient fossil from Spain shows birds flew over the heads of dinosaurs: Exceptional 125-million-year-old bird discovered.” That’s right: despite what we’ve heard for years about birds evolving from dinosaurs, this fossil proves that modern-looking birds “capable of aerodynamic prowess like many present-day birds” were flying overhead at least 59 million years before dinosaurs are thought to have gone extinct.
The exceptionally-preserved fossil is described in Nature’s new open-access journal Scientific Reports so anyone can read all about it. “Soft-tissue and dermal arrangement in the wing of an Early Cretaceous bird: Implications for the evolution of avian flight” is the title. One of the co-authors is Luis Chiappe, curator at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History.
“The anatomical match between the muscle network preserved in the fossil and those that characterize the wings of living birds strongly indicates that some of the earliest birds were capable of aerodynamic prowess like many present-day birds,” said Chiappe, the investigation’s senior scientist.
“It is very surprising that despite being skeletally quite different from their modern counterparts, these primitive birds show striking similarities in their soft anatomy,” said Guillermo Navalón, a doctorate candidate at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom and lead author of the report.
Who’s calling what primitive? The press release says “at least some of the most ancient birds performed aerodynamic feats in a fashion similar to those of many living birds.”
But isn’t there 25 million years between Archaeopteryx (150 million years) and this agile little bird? Actually, the paper points to Protopteryx from China, dated 131 million years in the evolutionary scheme, and says this:
Although still showing a suite of primitive skeletal traits, even the earliest enantiornithines (i.e., Protopteryx fengningensis) had already developed forelimb elements of modern proportions, a carinate sternum, and an advanced pectoral girdle including a triosseal canal for the passage of flight muscles, all of which suggest active flapping flight and a wing stroke similar to that of present-day birds. Integumentary similarities with modern birds, such as wings with identical feather arrangement and a well-developed alula (i.e., bastard wing), also point to the same functional conclusions. The preservation of three important patagia—propatagium, alular patagium, and postpatagium—together with the above-mentioned dermal system in the wing of MCCMLH31444 [the fossil under consideration], an Early Cretaceous enantiornithine, lends strong support to the notion that these primitive avians had achieved aerodynamic competence comparable to those of many modern birds.
That shortens the distance to 19 million years from Archaeopteryx, but there are still paleontologists who think Archaeopteryx was capable of powered flight, too (7/03/14). At least it had flight feathers and many of the traits for flight. Archaeopteryx might have even devolved from a flying bird, according to one paleontologist (11/12/13), putting the origin of flight even further back than 150 million years.
Another astonishing thing about the new fossil from Spain is the exceptional preservation. Clear impressions of muscles, tendons, and follicles and other tissues are seen in the limestone slab that preserves a good section of a wing. “The fossil preserves the anatomy of the wing’s patagia and different connective structures associated with the attachment of the remigial feathers in exceptional detail,” they say. They mention “soft tissue” seven times in the paper. It’s not clear any original material is preserved unmineralized, so one should not assume it is; they do, however, speak of it in this way:
The preserved portions of the ulna, radius, and metacarpals, and the complete manual digits, are all surrounded by abundant remains of epidermal and dermal connective tissues in close association with plumage. Eight to nine large and strongly asymmetrical primaries, 10–12 secondaries, and the remains of plumulaceous coverts are preserved as carbonized keratinous structures. A halo of brownish-to-yellowish epidermic and dermic tissue outlines the skeletal elements of the wing except for the ungual phalanges of digits I and II and their keratinous sheaths. The connective tissue associated with the plumage shows the same post-mortem folding of the skeletal elements, indicating that these soft tissues are preserved in anatomical position.
An elemental analysis was performed on one portion of the wing, suggesting there really is original material present:
Feathers are composed by higher concentrations of K, O, S, C and Fe as well as traces of Ti; connective tissues show a remarkably different composition from both the matrix and the fossil feathers, with a much more flat profile and a higher peak of P and Ca, evidencing the underlying calcium phosphatization process.
This fossil shows that a modern-looking, agile bird was flying over the heads of Compsognathus, Iguanodon, Brachiosaurus and other familiar dinosaurs of the Early Cretaceous, if not over other dinosaurs from the Late Jurassic. It also means that its tissues were “exceptionally preserved” for at least 125 million years in the Darwinian scheme. “The remarkably modern anatomy and arrangement of the connective tissues preserved in the wing of MCCMLH31444 implies that Early Cretaceous enantiornithines had already developed forelimbs morphologically well adapted for flight,” the authors state. This conclusion contrasts sharply with the Jurassic Park imagery of a world dominated by reptiles and pterosaurs giving way after the extinction (estimated 66 million years ago) to birds as their modern descendants. Birds had already been there long before.
Mary Schweitzer is Back, Confirming Soft Tissue
Speaking of original biological material, Mary Schweitzer (the one who broke the story of dinosaur soft tissue in T. rex in 2005) is back with a new paper in PNAS, authored by a team asking whether melanosomes (pigment bodies) in fossils are primordial or bacterial in origin. The summary says,
Melanin is a widespread pigment that provides black to reddish brown hues to organisms. Recent evidence has shown that melanin is retained in exceptionally preserved fossils, including feathered dinosaurs, allowing the reconstruction of ancient color patterns.
In order to rule out contamination or replacement, they studied chemical, experimental and morphological evidence from a number of fossils of different organisms in different geological settings. The result of their analysis “allows us to dismiss the alternative suggestion that these structures are microbial in origin.” It’s real, in other words: “melanin is widely responsible for the organic soft tissue outlines in vertebrates found at exceptional fossil localities.” So is the dark material on the bird fossil from Spain original organic melanin? The Nature paper didn’t say, but it appears possible since the bird probably had melanin in its wings when alive, and the fossil was exceptionally well preserved. See also the summary in Science Daily which quotes Schweitzer on how to find melanin:
“One way is by looking for keratin. Feathers contain keratin. Melanosomes are buried deep within the feather tissue, not on the surface, and they are covered with keratin, which is a very tough protein that has been shown to persist through time. If they are melanosomes, then that amorphous material should be keratin”
The Nature paper did mention keratin associated with the bird fossil in the form of keratin sheaths and carbonized keratin structures.
What’s it going to take to get Darwinians to give up on their stories? Their web of belief is as strong as steel. If it were not, the abundant falsifying evidence from the Cambrian explosion would have done it long ago, but here, 156 years after Darwin’s little black book, they still explain it away and almost completely ignore their critics.
This means that clear-headed people like CEH readers are going to have to understand this evidence and its implications, and teach a new generation the truth, rescuing as many as possible from the Darwin bigots and their hypnotists in the classroom. Illustra’s new Design of Life Trilogy can be a useful teaching aid for that campaign.