Soft tissue in dinosaur bones
In 2005 paleontologist Mary Schweitzer found the first evidence for soft tissues in a dinosaur bone. Blood vessels, red blood cells, and soft and stretchy ligaments were found in the bone. Also proteins like collagen, hemoglobin, osteocalcin, actin, and tubulin were found. And Schweitzer has even recovered fragments of the more fragile and complex molecule, DNA. These are complex molecules that continually tend to break down to simpler ones. The bone was said to be 68 million years old according to the geologic time scale. Schweitzer was the first researcher to identify and isolate soft tissues (such as collagen, a connective protein) from an ancient fossil bone (Appendix A).
Soft tissue has also been extracted from bones that are assumed to be from the Jurassic period which lasted from 145-200 million years. And in 2015 fibers and cellular structures were discovered preserved in 75 million year old dinosaur specimens. Both of these ages are assigned according to the geological time scale. Typically an animal’s remains mineralize as they decay, so most specimens of this supposed age consist of inorganic material.
The big question
According to the laws of chemistry and physics, within a few hundred thousand to a million years, all proteins in soft tissue structures should be hydrolyzed and completely degraded. So believing proteins could last for tens of millions of years takes enormous faith. But after several years of debate, it’s generally agreed that the soft tissue discovered by Mary Schweitzer is authentic
The big question is, why are the soft tissues still there in dinosaur bones when artificial decay experiments show soft tissues can last thousands of years but not millions of years?
Because scientists knew that soft tissues didn’t last that long before they degrade, Schweitzer said that there were two alternatives for the interpretation of these observations, “either the dinosaurs aren’t as old as we think they are, or maybe we don’t know exactly how these things get preserved” (interview of Schweitzer in 2014). It’s interesting to note that scientists are exploring the second alternative, but not the first one! Another alternative is that it’s not really soft tissue, but even hard-core evolutionists agree that’s what it is.
At least six possible explanations (including bacterial contaminants) have been suggested for this preservation of soft tissue in dinosaur bones, but they have all been refuted (Thomas, 2019). Bio-film (a product of more recent bacterial action), can’t explain the presence of proteins or DNA. Mary Schweitzer proposed that iron from blood helped preserve dinosaur tissue for millions of years by crosslinking proteins and acting as an anti-oxidant. But this claim is based on experiments that are unrepresentative of the conditions under which these dinosaur remains were preserved.
The most recent explanation is oxidative cross-linking of chemically reactive proteins with glucose or lipid molecules to form polymers, which are highly resistant to decay, water and bacteria. Yes, proteins do break down into amino acids or peptides that crosslink to form N-heterocyclic polymers. But it doesn’t explain totally un-crosslinked soft dinosaur tissues (Thomas, 2019). Even a polymer shield strong enough to resist microbes would develop cracks. So it cannot block water and oxygen indefinitely, which readily react with fragile molecules even underground. And it doesn’t explain wholly soft, pliable tissue.
All these explanations proposed to explain soft tissue in dinosaur bones are tentative and not robust because they involve historical science in which the results of experiments done over a short period of time (maybe a few years) are applied to a long period of time (thousands and millions of years). So they involve huge extrapolations in time.
Did you know that in 2013 a scientist was fired by a University because of his research into soft tissue in dinosaur bones? Mark Armitage participated in a dig at the Hell Creek Formation, in Montana, a world-famous dinosaur graveyard. On the dig he and others uncovered the largest Triceratops horn ever found at that location. It weighed 8 kg (18 pounds). He put the fossil under his microscope and found unmineralized, undecayed soft tissue. And he coauthored a peer-review paper in a scholarly journal about the find. Two weeks after the results of this research were published, Armitage was terminated from his position as the Manager of the Electron and Confocal Microscopy Laboratory in the Biology Department at California State University Northridge (CSUN).
Armitage was fired because of the intellectual intolerance that other scientists felt toward creationists. They may have thought that if the Triceratops is 68 million years old, as it is supposed to be under the geologic time scale, then it would be highly unlikely, if not impossible, for soft tissue remains to have been found there.
Before the law suit on this dismissal went to court, CSUN settled, paying compensatory damages, lawyer’s fees, and money for lost wages. Armitage’s claim that he had been unlawfully terminated was vindicated as the university was unwilling to go to court. Armitage’s attorney said that the state would never have paid such a huge sum unless it was very concerned about losing in court.
Armitage believes that if dinosaurs have soft tissue in their bones, then something is wrong with the belief system that says the world is billions of years old.
The discovery of soft tissue in dinosaur bones by Mary Schweitzer was unexpected and scientists have struggled to find a robust explanation. Under the biblical explanation of geologic history (see Appendix B), the dinosaurs were buried during the global flood about 4.5k years ago. This means that the soft tissue is about 4.5k years old. On the other hand, under the geologic time scale, the dinosaurs are about 100 million years old. This is about 20,000 times older than the biblical explanation, which is a huge difference (more than 4 orders of magnitude). As the soft tissue in dinosaur bones can be explained readily under the biblical time scale, this supplies a more realistic explanation of the presence of soft tissue in dinosaur bones than the uniformitarian (geologic) time scale.
Uniformitarian scientists get upset by statements like these because they assume that the earth is billions of years old and that life began simple and became more complex over time. As shown in Appendix B, this belief is largely due to their naturalistic worldview.
When Mary Schweitzer saw red blood cells in soft dinosaur tissue her supervisor said, “Prove to me they’re not”. Since then Schweitzer said, “That’s the way science should work. You can’t prove something is true. But you can disprove it. I’ve been trying ever since to disprove it. I still haven’t” (Service, 2017). But people like her never seem to question their deep time evolutionary assumptions.
The discovery of soft tissue in dinosaur bones was unexpected and scientists have struggled to find a robust explanation. We have seen that the biblical time scale gives a more realistic explanation of the presence of soft tissue in dinosaur bones than the uniformitarian (geologic) time scale.
This means that soft tissue in dinosaur bones provides another reason (besides, living fossils, coastal geomorphology, fossilization of large animals and orally-transmitted Aboriginal stories) to be skeptical of the uniformitarian (geologic) time scale.
Appendix A: A summary of Mary Schweitzer’s research (Service, 2017)
1995: spectroscopy and chemical analyses of extracts from a T. rex femur suggested preserved proteins, including a form of collagen abundant in modern animal bones.
2005: dissolving the minerals in a Cretaceous T. rex fossil sample revealed structures that looked like millimeter-long blood vessels that flexed and stretched like real tissue when tugged by tiny tweezers.
2007: microstructures commonly seen in modern collagen were seen in a T. rex sample. And tests seemed to confirm the presence of collagen.
2009: protein (collagen) fragments were isolated from a 80 million year old (geologic time scale) hadrosaur fossil.
2017: the study done in 2009 was repeated in order to answer critics. Eight protein fragments were found from a 80 million year old (geologic time scale) hadrosaur fossil.
Appendix B: Different explanations of geological history
The earth’s geological and climatological history has determined the current geomorphological and geological structure of the earth. At present there are two main explanations of the earth’s geological and climatological history. One (Biblical) is based on recorded history in the Bible and the other (Uniformitarian) is based on assuming that the present (processes today) is the key to the past (ancient processes) and on the hypothetical geologic time scale. The biblical explanation allows for catastrophic events (such as the flood of Noah), whereas the Uniformitarian explanation minimizes the role of catastrophic events (because it has a preference for gradual events). The biblical explanation mainly involves rapid processes over short periods of time, whereas the Uniformitarian explanation mainly involves slow processes over long periods of time.
Biblical explanation – The global flood about 4.5k years ago and associated tectonic activity and volcanism produced enormously thick sequences of sedimentary rocks over a short period of time. Fossils represent the order of burial during the flood. The flood was followed by an ice age during which there were volcanic and glacial impacts.
Uniformitarian explanation – Sea levels changed gradually over millions of years to produce the enormously thick sequences of sedimentary rocks that record the long history of geological time. Fossils represent the biological evolution of species. There were multiple ice ages over millions of years. The most recent ice age ended about 10k years ago.
Service R F , 2017, “’I don’t care what they say about me’: Paleontologist stares down critics in her hunt for dinosaur proteins”, Science, Portland, Oregon, 13 Sep, 2017.
Thomas T, 2019, “Does the Toast Model explain fossil protein persistence?”, Institute for Creation Research.
Written, November 2019