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Monday, July 28, 2014

More Evidence Against Feathered Dinosaurs

Posted by jlwile on January 2, 2013

This is a portion of one of the two fossils examined in the study that is discussed in the article below (GMV 2124). It is thought to be a Sinosauropteryx fossil, and the gray region pointed out is interpreted by some to be the remains of primitive feathers. The study strongly disputes that interpretation. (Click for credit.)

Several months ago I wrote an article about the fossil evidence for primitive feathers (often called “protofeathers”) in some dinosaur specimens. The article discussed a study by Theagarten Lingham-Soliar, Alan Feduccia, and Xiaolin Wang that provided strong evidence against the common interpretation that the dinosaur Sinosauropteryx was covered in such protofeathers. In the discussion that followed, Dr. Jonathan Sarfati suggested that I should read another article by Lingham-Soliar.1 Over the holidays, I finally had a chance to do so. As he suggested, this is another very important study in the “feathered dinosaurs” debate. While Dr. Sarfati has his own excellent analysis of this study and a few others, I would like to add some thoughts of my own.

Lingham-Soliar’s study focused on two fossils: NIGP 127587 (identified as a Sinosauropteryx fossil) and GMV 2124 (thought to be a Sinosauropteryx fossil). Both exhibit exceptional preservation. In fact, the latter fossil is so well-preserved that the stomach contents were analyzed and three mammal skulls were found! Two came from mammals in the genus Zhangheotherium, and the third came from the genus Sinobaatar.2 The important aspect of the fossils for this study, however, is the fact that both show some sort of “fuzz” extending from the body of the animal (pointed out in the picture above). This “fuzz” has been routinely interpreted to be the remains of primitive feathers, but Lingham-Soliar and his colleagues strongly dispute that interpretation.

In an attempt to understand precisely what this “fuzz” represents, Lingham-Soliar performed a detailed examination of the fossils and also did a simple experiment. The combination of his fossil analysis and the results of the experiment provide still more evidence that Sinosauropteryx did not have any feathers.

One of the important things his examination revealed is that paleontologists have missed something very important about fossil GMV 2124: the way its tail ends. As he says:

Specimen GMV 2124 is also shown for the first time to have a broad spatulate termination of the tail.

Why is this important? For two reasons. First, there is “fuzz” around this spatula-shape. However, as he points out, that makes it very hard to believe that the fuzz represents any kind of feather:

The spatulate termination of the tail in GMV 2124 (Fig. 4a) shows conditions that argue against the filamentous tissue being feathers (Ji and Ji 1997). The vertebrae can be seen to rapidly diminish in size just before the spatulate termination, at the base of which they also apparently become compressed (Fig. 4b, inset). These two conditions would scarcely have provided the necessary area for the points of attachment for even a few protofeathers, let alone the masses needed to radiate in a sufficiently tight enough circle to produce a smooth, sharply defined edge (Fig. 4b, black arrows).

Second, it is thought that both fossils examined in the study were formed in a lacustrine (lake or lake-like) environment. If that is the case, Sinosauropteryx might have actually been a semi-aquatic reptile, and a spatula shape at the end of the tail would be ideal for swimming. Well, if Sinosauropteryx had one design element that would aid in swimming, it wouldn’t be surprising to find that it had others. Lingham-Soliar and his colleagues have continually suggested that the “fuzz” on these fossils represents the internal support fibers for some structure like a crest or a frill. Since a crest would also be an incredible advantage to a semi-aquatic reptile, he says:

Finally, it is bewildering that in a lacustrine environment, a crest-like structure on the tail or body or both, useful in swimming, is generally not even contemplated in dinosaurs such as Psittacosaurus, Sinosauropteryx, Tianyalong, and Beipiaosaurus.

Actually, I don’t find that bewildering at all. The evolution of feathers has always been a serious problem for evolutionists. At university, I was taught as fact that feathers evolved from scales. However, we now know that there are several reasons why that isn’t possible.3 As a result, evolutionists have been desperately scrambling for some other way to claim that feathers evolved. So when some “fuzz” was found on a few dinosaur fossils, it was immediately jumped on as the remains of primitive feathers, regardless of the fact that there are other (possibly more reasonable) explanations.

There are other interesting aspects to Lingham-Soliar’s study, especially the discussion of the experiment that was performed. However, they are covered well in Dr. Sarfati’s article, which I encourage you to read.

REFERENCES

1. Theagarten Lingham-Soliar, “The evolution of the feather: Sinosauropteryx, life, death and preservation of an alleged feathered dinosaur,” Journal of Ornithology 153:699–711, 2012. (Available online)
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2. Hurum, J.H., Luo, Z., and Kielan-Jaworowska, Z., “Were mammals originally venomous?”, Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 51(1):1–11, 2006.
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3. Richard O. Prum and Alan H. Brush, “Which came first, the feather or the bird?”, Scientific American 288(3):84-93, 2003.
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Comments

8 Responses to “More Evidence Against Feathered Dinosaurs”
  1. J.S. says:

    The problem with the assumption that the fossils were formed in a lacustrine environment is that fossils don’t form in lakes–animal remains are scavenged or decayed unless quickly removed from the zone of decay, which doesn’t happen to an animal dying naturally in a lake.

    According to the photo credit, this fossil was found in the Jehol formation, which is part of a big packet of volcanic sediments.(1)

    The article that I read on the Jehol indicates that the fossil was most likely preserved by volcanic processes: “Excavation and trace element analysis indicates: Jehol biota experienced mass mortality and rapid burial; toxic gases of the volcanic activities are the main factors of biological catastrophic event.”

    Which is just to suggest that the environment in which the fossil was found really doesn’t have any bearing on whether the animal could swim or not.

    (1) Shuwang, C., Shuwen, X., 2005. DISCUSSION ON THE STRUCTURAL-VOLCANIC ACTIVITIES AND BIOLOGICAL EVENTS DURING EARLY CRETACEOUS IN SIHETUN AREA, LIAONING PROVINCE, CHINA.

  2. jlwile says:

    J.S., I think the author’s point is that the surrounding sediments do indicate a lacustrine environment. Yes, the fossils were preserved by volcanic sediments, and the author even suggests that toxins from the volcanic eruption are what killed the animals. The picture he seems to have in his mind is a lacustrine environment near a volcano. The volcano erupts, and toxins kill the animals. Then the dead animals are buried by volcanic ash or mud flows. Invertebrates feed on the animals while they can, but they are eventually killed as well. After that, preservation occurs.

    Of course, I am not saying that’s what happened. However, it does seem to be what the author thinks happened.

  3. Jonathan B. says:

    Great article, and interesting links. I don’t think I’ll ever be too old to be fascinated by dinosaurs. Personally, I think Sinosauropteryx would look a lot cooler with a crest than with feathers, but I won’t let my personal preference take any precedence over the data.

    Just out of curiosity: J.S. isn’t Dr. Sarfati, is he?

  4. jlwile says:

    I am glad you enjoyed the article, Jonathan. I am also glad you are not allowing your personal preference to take precedence over the data!

    No, J.S. is not Dr. Sarfati. I know them both, and they are actually from different countries. Dr. Sarfati uses his full name when he comments on my blog.

  5. J.S. says:

    Sorry about the confusion–I’ll change my name to S.J., to make things easier!

  6. jlwile says:

    There’s really no need, J.S. Of course, feel free to do so if you wish.

  7. Caden Brown says:

    Great article, Dr. jay. i think its completely illogical that scientist will jump on the littlest things as “proof” for evolution.illogical, but, to a degree, understandable. in my opinion, evolutionist are getting desprirate and willing to believe anything that they make up, despite scientific evaluation of the said subject clearly stating otherwise. :/

  8. Caden Brown says:

    oh well

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