Fresh Fossil Feather Nanostructures | The Institute for Creation Research
Fresh Fossil Feather Nanostructures

Bird feathers can contain pigmentation for a wide range of colors, with specific molecules reflecting certain hues when light touches them. They also can display “structural” colors, where the thicknesses of layers of cells and connective tissues are fine-tuned to refract certain colors.

Scientists recently described structural coloration that is still clearly discernible in well-preserved fossil feathers. Why do these fossil feathers have their original cell structures laid out in the original patterns if they are millions of years old?

In 1995, paleontologists Derek Briggs and Paul Davis provided an overview of fossil feathers from the 40 or so places on the globe where they were known to exist.1 Among their findings was that 69 percent of feather fossils are preserved not as impressions, but as carbon traces. This was verified by comparing the proportions of carbon in both the surrounding carbonaceous rock and the fossil within it, to the proportions of organically-derived carbon from the same items. They found that there was more organic carbon in the fossil than in the stone.

At that time, the researchers thought the carbon came from bacteria that had degraded the feather material and then remained placed in the feather’s outline. But 13 years later, Briggs and other colleagues showed clear evidence that these “bacterial cells” were actually melanosomes―the same microscopic, sausage-shaped, dark pigment-containing structures in today’s bird feathers―from the original feather.2

This means that the organic carbon in the melanosomes somehow avoided decay for millions of years, which contradicts “the well-known fact that the majority of organic molecules decay in thousands of years.”3

Briggs and his colleagues recently described fossil feathers from the German Messel Oil Shale deposits, which are famous for their remarkably well-preserved fossils. These not only contained organic carbon from melanosomes (not bacteria), but the melanosomes were still organized in their original spacing and layering. Thus, the “metallic greenish, bluish or coppery” colors that can be seen from different viewing angles, producing an iridescent sheen, may very well be similar to that of the original bird’s plumage.4

Biologists already know that “in order to produce a particular [structural] colour, the keratin thickness must be accurate to within about 0.05 μm (one twenty thousandth of one millimetre!).”5 Although the keratin had decayed from these fossil feathers, its layers of melanosomes remained laid out in similarly precise thicknesses. Thus, not only was the color preserved, but the melanosomes were still organized to within micrometers of their original positions.

Evolutionary geologists maintain that the Messel Shale was formed 47 million years ago. But with these colorful feather fossils—which retain not only the original molecules inside their original melanosomes, but also the architectural layout of these structures—evolutionists must invent some kind of magical preservation process that simply isn’t observed in the laboratory or in nature.

Without the assumption of millions of years, however, the fossil data begin to make much more sense. Fresh-looking fossil features point to a young world.

References

  1. Davis, P.G. and D. E. G. Briggs. 1995. Fossilization of feathers. Geology. 23 (9): 783-786.
  2. Thomas, B. Fossil Feathers Convey Color. ICR News. Posted on icr.org July 21, 2008, accessed September 10, 2009.
  3. Fossil feathers reveal their hues. BBC News. Posted on news.bbc.co.uk July 8, 2008, reporting on research published in Vinther, J. et al. 2008. The colour of fossil feathers. Biology Letters. 4 (5): 522-525.
  4. Scientists Find Evidence of Iridescence in 40-Million-Year-Old Feather Fossil. Yale University press release, August 26, 2009, reporting on research published in Vinther, J. et al. Structural coloration in a fossil feather. Biology Letters. Published online before print August 26, 2009.
  5. Burgess, S. 2001. The beauty of the peacock tail and the problems with the theory of sexual selection. TJ. 15 (2): 96.

Image Credit: Jakob Vinther/Yale University

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

Article posted on September 16, 2009.

The Latest
NEWS
Remembering Patti Morse
But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from...

CREATION PODCAST
What Happened with Washington's Violent Volcano? | The Creation...
How did a 1980 volcanic eruption change our understanding of geology? What impact did this event have on the age assignments of sediments? Join us for...

NEWS
Fossil Insect Predation Shows No Evidence of Evolution
Some recent science news stories have come out describing fossils of insects feeding on plants supposedly many “millions of years ago.” What...

NEWS
Adaptive Genetic and Epigenetic Changes in Plants
Being sedentary organisms, plants are essentially stuck where they are planted and need to dynamically adapt to the conditions around them to not only...

NEWS
Dr. Tim Clarey Awarded Adjunct Professor of the Year
Congratulations to ICR Research Scientist and geologist Dr. Tim Clarey! He received the Adjunct Professor of the Year award from King’s University,...

NEWS
Mars Rover Records Dramatic Solar Eclipse
NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover has filmed the Martian satellite (or moon) Phobos eclipsing the sun, and this short but impressive video may be viewed...

CREATION PODCAST
Darwin or Design? CET Pt. 2 | The Creation Podcast: Episode 22
How does design provide a better explanation for biological functions and adaptations than natural selection? And how can engineering principles help...

NEWS
Resurrecting “Ancient” Enzymes?
The most abundant protein on Earth is probably an enzyme (biological catalyst) called RuBisCO (or Rubisco) designed by the Creator to function in photosynthesis.1...

NEWS
Inside May-June 2022 Acts & Facts
How can Christians stand up to scientific elitism? What does the plant fossil record in Iceland tell us about the global Flood? Does a new bacterium...

ACTS & FACTS
Creation Kids: Grand Canyon
by Christy Hardy and Susan Windsor* You’re never too young to be a creation scientist! Kids, discover fun facts about God’s creation...