One-Ton 'Feathered' Dinosaur?

Media reports are buzzing with misleading headlines. Wired Science reported, "Giant Feathered Tyrannosaur Found in China."1 Even the technical description, published in Nature, is titled, "A gigantic feathered dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of China."2 Despite these assertions, the fossils' details show no actual feathers or feather imprints.

The Christian Science Monitor covered the story, too. The report might lead readers to believe that paleontologists actually found feathers, but they didn't. Though the title reads, "Dressed to kill: A feathered tyrannosaur is discovered in China," further into the article the "feathered" status is qualified—these tyrannosaur-like remains sport "feather-like features."3 The same article later quoted lead author of the Nature paper, Xing Xu, calling the fibers "simple filaments."3 The Nature text also describes them as "filamentous integumentary [skin] structures."2 So are they feathers, feather fibers, unknown fibers, or skin fibers? Answering this correctly is important. If they are not confirmed feathers, then these articles represent more examples of misleading headlines.

Those misled into thinking that the fossil fibers are feathers—when they actually are not—become more susceptible to the lie that dinosaurs evolved into birds. Such a transformation would not have been possible.4

The famous Chinese dinosaurs probably began rotting as they were transported in Noah's Floodwaters only 4,500 or so years ago, even as modern carcasses rot. The soluble flesh rotted first, leaving behind more resistant fibers that were then fossilized.

As is the case with other famous claims of Chinese fossil dinosaur "feathers," these are more straightforwardly interpreted as being the fossilized fragments of partly decayed skin. Researchers compared the fossil fibers to skin filaments from decaying carcasses, and found an excellent match.5

Why would so many headlines report that fossil feathers are present? Scientists themselves are not certain that the filaments are actually feathers. And a better explanation fits.

References

  1. Keim, B. Giant Feathered Tyrannosaur Found in China. Wired Science. Posted on wired.com April 4, 2012, accessed April 5, 2012.
  2. Xu, X. et al. 2012. A gigantic feathered dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of China. Nature. 484 (7392): 92-95.
  3. Spotts, P. Dressed to kill: A feathered tyrannosaur is discovered in China. Christian Science Monitor. Posted on csmonitor.com April 4, 2012, accessed April 5, 2012.
  4. Thomas, B. Fossil Fibers Befuddle Dinosaur Evolution. ICR News. Posted on icr.org March 31, 2009, accessed April 5, 2012.
  5. Feduccia, A., T. Lingham-Soliar, and J. R. Hinchliffe. 2005. Do Feathered Dinosaurs Exist? Testing the Hypothesis on Neontological and Paleontological Evidence. Journal of Morphology. 266: 134.

* Mr. Thomas is Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research.

Article posted on April 27, 2012.

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