Soft Bone Tissue in a Triceratops Fossil

A triceratops skull like the one from which the horn in the study came. (click for credit)
These are exciting times to be a creationist! Ever since Dr. Mary Schweitzer first demonstrated the existence of soft tissue in a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil that is supposed to be 65 million years old,1 soft tissue is turning up in all sorts of supposedly ancient fossils (see here, here, here, and here for more information). The latest example comes from the Hell Creek Formation in Montana, which is supposed to be about 65 million years old, so the fossil is assumed to be that old as well.

The fossil in question is a horn from a Triceratops horridus specimen. After it was collected, it broke in several places, indicating that the fossil had been fractured. Since the fossil was broken, the authors of the study decided to get rid of the “hard parts” of the fossil to see if there was anything soft inside. To do this, they soaked the horn in a weak acid for a month.

As the acid ate away at the minerals that formed the horn, the authors found strips of light brown, soft tissue remaining. Now this soft stuff could be from all manner of things, so the authors decided to do a microscopic study of the tissue, and what they found was was exactly what you would expect to see if you examined the tissue from the bone of a recently deceased animal!2

When they examined the tissue under a light microscope, they found well-defined, circular Haversian systems. In case you aren’t familiar with that term, compact bone is made of cylindrical structures formed by bone cells that are called osteocytes. The drawing below shows what a Haversian system looks like:

Diagram of a Haversian system in compact bone (Click for credit)

Note that the center of the cylinder is a canal called the Haversian canal. The authors show that the Haversian canals they saw in the tissue were filled with structures that strongly resemble red blood cells!

Since the tissue looks like compact bone tissue, the most reasonable conclusion is that it comes from the Triceratops fossil. Given that, there is another question to answer: are these Haversian systems fossilized or not? After all, it is possible that the fossilization process is so precise that it preserves structures on the cellular level. Given the fact that the tissue was soft, that’s unlikely, but I suppose it’s still a possibility.

To answer this question, the authors looked at the Haversian systems with a scanning electron microscope, and you can see pictures of what they saw here. The osteocytes that make up the Haversian systems seem completely intact, all the way down to their fragile filipodial extensions. In fact, the authors note:

Filipodial extensions were delicate and showed no evidence of any permineralization or crystallization artifact and therefore were interpreted to be soft.

So it really seems like they were seeing intact, soft osteocytes from a Triceratops fossil found in the Hell Creek Formation. It is hard enough to understand how a bone cell can exist like that for thousands of years. The idea that it has lasted for 65 million years simply boggles the mind.

In my mind, this study is strong evidence against the idea that the fossils in the Hell Creek Formation are millions of years old.


1. Mary H. Schweitzer, Jennifer L. Wittmeyer, John R. Horner, and Jan K. Toporski, “Soft-Tissue Vessels and Cellular Preservation in Tyrannosaurus rex,” Science, 307:1952-1955, 2005
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2. Mark Hollis Armitage and Kevin Lee Anderson, “Soft sheets of fibrillar bone from a fossil of the supraorbital horn of the dinosaur Triceratops horridus,” Acta Histochemica, doi: 10.1016/j.acthis.2013.01.001, 2103
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8 thoughts on “Soft Bone Tissue in a Triceratops Fossil”

  1. The discovery of these soft tissues is certainly “puzzling”, especially from an old age viewpoint.

    Thanks for another great article and for sharing your thoughts and insights with us.

  2. I wonder how evolutionists explain around finds like these? To me, soft tissue in a dinosaur bone seems like pretty airtight evidence that the bone isn’t millions of years old. You’re right; it’s an exciting time to be a creationist!

    1. Evolutionists are used to exercising irrational faith. They already believe absurdly improbable things happen as a matter of course throughout earth’s history. How much harder is it to believe that cells can be preserved for millions of years without being mineralized?

  3. So God created these monsters and then did what?? I happen to believe He created us, et al as a separate creation after these things were destroyed. What years are we talking about? 20,000; 50,000; 200,000 years ago? And when in time frames, did God create homo ‘us’es’. If that could be established, the evolutionists would collapse over night. Again, first tell us , Did God create these Juras et al creatures???? And Why? Was He just fooling around????

    1. I am not sure I understand what you are getting at, Glenn. I think God created the dinosaurs on the sixth day, when He created the other “beasts of the earth” (Genesis 1:24-25). He was not fooling around when He made them. They were a part of His “very good” creation (Genesis 1:31). The fossils we see of them today were formed at the time of the Flood. Here’s a good primer on the subject.

  4. It’s nice to read something like this after having your beliefs ridiculed by the internet. I just read something a guy from Harvard said (must be a janitor or something because who would hire such a foolish man to teach?) that evolution is a fact and that the mechanism is the theory. He compared it to gravity, explaining how gravity is a fact and there are theories that explain it (newtons and such).
    This is not an accurate comparison, I know there is a logical flaw in here somewhere. I say, gravity is a phenomena that we can experience, and the theories try to explain it.
    Our existence is a fact,evolution is a theory that tries to explain why.

    anyway, this all culminated to a chat with my mom in which she said that they don’t even know exactly how the fossilization process works (I didn’t really know this). Of course, I’m sure they will twist it to show how soft tissue can exist for millions of year. And I shall try to argue against it but its hard to argue against such people who reject reason in the first place.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Amy. I run into the “evolution is a fact” statement all the time. The problem with that statement is in the definition of the word “evolution.” That word has several meanings, and using some of those meanings (such as “a process of change in a certain direction”), the statement is true. We have observed species change in a certain direction. From that standpoint, then, evolution is a fact.

      However, I am sure that the gentleman from Harvard wasn’t using the word that generically. Instead, he meant “flagellate to philosopher” evolution. Of course, that’s not a fact, because what little evidence we have for such biological change is equivocal, and a lot of the evidence we have says it can’t happen at all. However, this is the common “bait and switch” technique that evolutionary evangelists use. They talk about evidence for adaptation and then claim it is evidence for flagellate-to-philosopher evolution. However, serious evolutionary biologists know better. For example, as evolutionary geneticist E.H. Davidson says:

      The most important consequence is that contrary to classical evolutionary theory, the processes that drive the small changes observed as species diverge cannot be taken as models for the evolution of the body plans of animals. These are apples and oranges, so to speak, and that is why it is necessary to apply new principles that derive from the structure/function relations of gene regulatory networks to approach the mechanisms of body plan evolution. [E.H. Davidsdon, The Regulatory Genome: Gene Regulatory Networks in Development and Evolution, Elsevier Academic Press 2006, p. 195]

      So what he is saying is that the processes we see happening to change organisms today cannot be what caused the supposed evolution from one body plan to another. Unfortunately, evolutionists who are more interested in spreading their faith than accurately communicating the data gloss over this very important concept.

      Your mom is correct that we don’t fully understand the fossilization process. If we did, it wouldn’t keep throwing us surprises, such as soft tissue in dinosaur bones!

  5. Glenn, I agree jlwile that God created them during his 6 days of Creation.
    He made them to show His power and glory, so that we would look at them and be in awe – along with the rest of His creation. Even though it is under a curse since Adam’s rebellion, and altered from it’s original perfect state, and falling apart (entropy) it is still amazing.

    Many of your problems would be solved if you seriously studied the incredible significance of the worldwide flood as well. And the Scriptures that speak of these great ‘monsters’ written of by men who saw them Job chapter 40 and 41.

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