May 1, 2023 | David F. Coppedge

Darwinians Struggle with Dinosaur Soft Tissue

They admit it exists, but can only make up stories
to explain how it could last tens of millions of years.


— Are the data driving the paradigm, or vice versa? —

How Are Dino Tissues Preserved in Deep Time? (North Carolina State University, 28 April 2023). The big controversy started here at NC State when Mary Schweitzer posted photos and videos of stretchy tissue inside a T. rex bone in 2004. Have evolutionists and believers in Deep Time been able to get a grip?

Ever since Mary Schweitzer found soft, stretchy tissue in a T. rex fossil in 2004, scientists have been trying to come to grips with how some biological tissues and cells could preserve within ancient critters.

Notice that the press release admits that these biological tissues and cells exist. They are not denying it, as if misrepresentations or misidentifications have been made. They are not calling them biofilms or instances of contamination. The soft tissues found by Schweitzer and others are not mineral replacements of soft tissue; they are the original soft tissue.

Coming to the Rescue of Deep Time

The press release introduces the hypothesis of “crosslinking” to attempt to explain how these original tissues could last for tens or hundreds of millions of years:

The most popular hypotheses involve a process called “crosslinking.” Similar to the way formaldehyde is used to fix tissues and preserve them, crosslinking can also “fix” tissues of ancient organisms, including dinosaurs. (Remember that 7th grade frog dissection? Yeah, those frogs were preserved via crosslinking with formaldehyde.)

Fixatives like formaldehyde keep the tissues from degrading – in part, they make them less digestible to bacteria,” says Landon Anderson, doctoral candidate at NC State and lead author of a study in Earth Science Reviews. “But there are a number of different chemical pathways that can result in crosslinking. This work shows that at least two of the more popular hypotheses actually share a chemical pathway and overlap quite a bit. In many cases, they are one and the same.”

But does formaldehyde preserve tissues for tens of millions of years? Does it make the tissue completely indigestible to bacteria? Does it render tissue impenetrable to cosmic rays, radon in the soil, or bioturbation? Remember that Mary Schweitzer shocked 60 Minutes host Leslie Stahl and dinosaur paleontologist Jack Horner by showing the tissue was still stretchable.

The bulk of the press release distracts attention from the issue of deep time. It focuses on proving that two of the crosslinking hypotheses are essentially similar. Then a blatant assertion is made to sweep away the issue:

“Because we didn’t realize that these processes could come from the same starting place and share a step, the hypotheses have been presented as separate,” Anderson says. “But I wanted to show the chemistry behind these ideas, and that it plausibly explains the soft tissues and cells we’re seeing in, for example, dinosaurs. In fact, the chemistry from this paper potentially describes preservation for a variety of original cellular tissues, including vertebrates and other organisms trapped within amber, ‘carbonized’ traces of ancient feathers and skin, and even dinosaur ‘mummies’.”

It “potentially” describes the preservation, says Landon Anderson of NC State. That gives him an escape valve. How does he know it could? He doesn’t know that, because he tosses the solution into the futureware bucket.

These two hypotheses, taken together, don’t answer every question regarding soft tissue preservation in deep time. There is a lot left to explore.

The study by Anderson also delves into the processes of carbonization and sulfurization, in addition to the best conditions for preservation. Questions remain regarding how the predominant preservation pathways change under different environmental conditions, but Anderson believes that demystifying the general chemical theory behind the processes involved is an important first step.

It sounds pretty mystical to appeal to futureware. Scientists have had two decades to think about soft tissue preservation in dinosaur bones. Since 2004, soft tissue has been discovered in fossils all over the world, spanning the entire Deep Time continuum, as Dr Brian Thomas at ICR has shown. See his list of published papers documenting soft tissue finds; see also this informative episode with Dr Kevin Anderson from the series, Is Genesis History?. Which paradigm is more scientific? Which needs less “demystifying”? By appealing to the magic of futureware, Landon Anderson’s statement could be sung to the tune of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.*

Hard Science

Osteocytes with delicate filipodia and blood vessels in ostrich bone (A, C) compared with similar soft tissues in a dinosaur bone (B, D). From the paper by Landon Anderson.

A chemical framework for the preservation of fossil vertebrate cells and soft tissues (Landon A. Anderson, Earth Science Reviews, May 2023 issue). For a scientist committed all his life to Deep Time like Landon Anderson, stretchable soft tissue is hard for someone like Landon Anderson to accept in bones believed to be tens of millions of years old. How does he deal with it? Does he face the objections to the crosslinking hypothesis presented by Dr Kevin Anderson in the link above? Right in the Abstract, he distracts attention by emphasizing whether two hypotheses are distinct or not.

This review posits a chemical framework describing the persistence of biological “soft” tissues into deep time. The prior iron-mediated radical crosslinking and AGE/ALE mechanisms are re-described in context of established chemistry from a diversity of scientific fields. Significantly, this framework demonstrates the hypotheses presented by Schweitzer et al. (2014) and Wiemann et al. (2018) are, in many cases, subsequent steps of a single, unified reaction mechanism, and not separate hypotheses. Knowledge of the chemical mechanisms underlying vertebrate soft tissue preservation has direct implications for molecular archaeology and palaeontology, including efforts at molecular sequence recovery within the ancient DNA and palaeoproteomic communities. Such implications that are immediately apparent from examining the chemical framework are discussed.

Significantly, Landon Anderson does cite the published work by Mark Armitage and Kevin Anderson in Acta Histochemica (2013) in his list of soft tissue reports. That study, mentioned by Kevin Anderson in the video clip, reported stretchable tissue and osteocytes present in a Triceratops horn. You can watch the tissue stretch in the video. Yet Landon Anderson (hence LAA, to distinguish from Kevin Anderson), puts “cells” and “soft tissues” in scare quotes so as to raise doubt in the reader’s mind. Then he raises more doubt by asserting, “the notion that cells and soft tissues are unlikely to preserve within mineralized vertebrate remains is questionable on its own,” since fossil fuels consist of kerogens left by plants. But does that prove that kerogens are millions of years old? No! Perhaps both the dinosaur tissue and kerogens are young. That idea is not considered by LAA. Look at how he begs the question:

The fossil fuels used daily by society consist of original biomolecules of ancient plants and microorganisms that have been chemically transformed into carbonaceous macromolecules referred to as kerogens (Tissot and Welte, 1984; Tegelaar et al., 1989; Vandenbroucke and Largeau, 2007). In cases such as with coalified fossil wood, for example, this conversion of biomolecules towards kerogen macromolecules can preserve original tissue morphology (Gupta et al., 2007a; Gupta, 2015; Mustoe, 2018). The fields of soil and petroleum science even accept that recalcitrant biomarkers can preserve through time as portions of these highly crosslinked kerogen macromolecules (Westbroek et al., 1979; Philp and Gilbert, 1987; Gupta, 2014; Ferrer et al., 2018). Further, the preservation of biological tissues is a phenomenon known to occur within invertebrate fossils (Stankiewicz et al., 1997; Gupta et al., 2007c; Cody et al., 2011; Ehrlich et al., 2013; Wysokowski et al., 2014).

In short, he argues that because we “know” that fossil fuels, coalified wood and invertebrate fossils “are” tens or hundreds of millions of years old, what’s the problem with accepting dinosaur soft tissue being that old as well? This is a question-begging argument, like saying ‘What’s the problem with saying Corvettes evolved by chance, refuting intelligent design? Haven’t you seen bicycles, tanks and Model T Fords before?’

LAA is wedded to “generally accepted geologic settings” that make him feel obliged to preserve deep time at all costs. His declaration “The author has no relevant financial or non-financial interests to disclose” is a half-truth. His job in academia may depend on his being an old-earther. Let him consider seriously the possibility that dinosaur soft tissue is probably only a few thousand years old and watch him get fired real fast.

Update 18 May 2023: Dr Brian Thomas published a rebuttal of the “iron toast” model for soft tissue preservation at ICR.

Exercise: LAA’s paper is open-access. Do some careful reading and see whether his “chemical framework” for soft tissue preservation makes plausible chemical sense and answers all the objections to the crosslinking hypothesis brought up by Kevin Anderson and Brian Thomas, or whether LAA is desperately looking for rescue devices to preserve deep time. Be especially wary of distractions and sidesteps. Don’t be thrown off balance by acronyms (ITMs, KLMs, MLMs, etc.) Keep your eye on the issue: how could stretchable soft tissues, cells and proteins survive for tens of millions of years against all the forces that would degrade them in short order? How strong is the empiricism in his argument? Does he deal adequately with all the objections, like temperature fluctuations, percolating water, radiation and all? Do proposed solutions beg the question or toss answers into the futureware bin?

The Futureware Theme Song

Some day over the rainbow, I’ll prove all;
Give me time in the future and all your doubts will fall.
Somewhere over the rainbow, my view’s true;
And so all of you skeptics eat crow; away with you!


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