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It is interesting how dinosaur artifacts continue to amaze us. For example, in 1961, petroleum geologist R. L. Liscomb discovered a large bone bed on the banks of the Colville River in Alaska, not far from the Arctic Ocean. Since the bones were not perminieralized (fossilized), he assumed they were recent bison bones. He deposited some in a museum and for twenty years nobody gave the bones another thought. Then somebody noticed that these were Edmontosaurus bones (duckbill dinosaur). In 1985 palaeontologist William A. Clemens reported abundant dinosaur bones at the Liscomb site and in 1987 associate Kyle L. Davies described the condition of the dinosaur bones: “The quality of preservation is remarkable. The bones are stained a dark red brown but otherwise display little permineralization, crushing or distortion.” (J. Paleontology 61 #1 p. 198). Could such bones really be millions of years old as many scientists now supposed?

In July 1994 a five man expedition sponsored by the Creation Research Science Education Foundation travelled to Alaska to the Liscomb bed. Their five day trip down the Colville River was gruelling, but they managed to collect 60 kg of bones. (see Great Alaskan Dinosaur Adventure. Buddy Davis et al. 1998. Master books). They hoped that there would still be collagen (protein) in the bones, suitable for carbon dating. Some specimens were sent to a laboratory in Germany for dating. Apparently there was some collagen, and dating of this material fits a pattern of other recent discoveries. This takes us to the topic of soft tissue discoveries in dinosaur fossils.

A fossil is a trace of a formerly living creature, which is preserved in rock. Most dinosaur fossils consist of bones which have turned into rock. Certainly nobody was looking for primary dinosaur tissue inside such rocky artifacts. But the curiosity of one lady scientist changed all that.

Mary Schweitzer came to dinosaur studies relatively late in life. A substitute teacher and mother of a young family, in 1989 she elected to audit a course given by Jack Horner (Curator of the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana). Next she obtained a research position under the direction of Dr. Horner. As time went on, she kept noticing strange things that nobody else had mentioned. Once, when she was working on a T. rex bone, she noticed an unpleasant organic odour apparently coming from the bone. In reply to her query, Dr. Horner told her that all the Hell Creek bones smell bad. Since Hell Creek rocks would be dated by conventional estimates at about 65 million years, an organic odour coming from the bones did not really make sense.

On another occasion, a medical pathologist was allowed to view a cross section of T. rex bone under the microscope. He commented that red blood cells could be seen within the rocky slice of bone tissue. Dr. Horner then challenged Mary Schweitzer to prove that the artifacts were not red blood cells. This project turned into her doctoral thesis. She used several techniques to study the nature of these artifacts. Her data supported the conclusion that the T. rex fossil contained fragments of hemoglobin molecules (the organic compound that makes red blood cells red and enables them to carry oxygen). She published the results of this work in 1997 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Many people refused to conclude that she had really found organic materials in a dinosaur fossil. But this was just the beginning.

In 2000 a T. rex metre-long leg bone was inadvertently broken in transit. Associates collected the resulting chips and sent them to Mary Schweitzer . To her astonishment, the largest chip from the bone interior resembled the interior of leg bones in certain large birds. To follow up this idea, she dissolved away all the rock to see what might be left behind. Minerals dissolve in mild acid, but not organic compounds. She recovered what appeared to be collagen (matrix of the bone), blood vessels and osteocytes (the cells that form bone). In 2005 in the journal Science, Mary Schweitzer and colleagues published a report on soft tissue and cellular preservation inside a T. rex fossil bone. Later in 2007 a larger team from this lab reported that traces of 7 distinct protein fragments from collagen had been observed. Others however disputed this, suggesting that the results came from bacterial contamination or a statistical fluke.

In September 2009 another team of scientists published (in J. of Proteome Research) a reanalysis of the T. rex data and they corroborated the Schweitzer team’s analysis from 2007. This was important support. And there were other similar studies. For example, an international team of 12 scientists, publishing in PLoS one Biology, documented that protein fragments were observed in a Cretaceous mosasaur (extinct marine lizard). This team declared that the organic fragments were typical of collagen. (April 2011 vol 6 #4 p. 1).

Some in the scientific community have thus slowly come to support the idea that once living tissues have survived to the present inside dinosaur and other fossils. This leads these scientists to conclude that these biochemical components of life can last without decay for tens of millions of years. However theoretical kinetics and laboratory experiments suggest much shorter survival times for proteins, depending upon the conditions of storage. Other scientists declare that soft tissue preservation in dinosaurs is a strong indication that the dinosaurs lived much more recently than secular science assumes, perhaps only thousands of years ago.

While rocks are typically dated using radioactive minerals that decay very slowly, formerly living tissue is dated using a different method. All living cells are made up of organic molecules which contain carbon. Carbon 14 is a radioactive version of normal carbon12. Plants take in carbon dioxide from the air, and manufacture organic compounds from it. Animals eat and digest plants. Since a very small proportion of the carbon dioxide contains radioactive carbon, all plants and animals contain some radioactive carbon. When an organism dies, the amount of radioactive carbon starts to decline. In 5730 years, about one half of a sample of carbon14 will have decayed. After a maximum of 50,000 years, there should be no detectable carbon14 in the organic material.

Naturally if a dinosaur died 65 million years ago, it should not contain any carbon14. On this basis, many scientists refuse to try a carbon14 radiometric date on dinosaur soft tissue. However some people have been curious enough to carry out the test. One of the first such tests was on the contents of unfossilized dinosaur bones from Alaska’s North Slope. A laboratory in Kiel, Germany reported a date in 1998 of about 31,000 years. Similar dates have been obtained for soft material from fossil interiors too. In 2011, the international team examining the contents of soft tissue in a marine mosasaur (from Belgium and presumed to be 70 million years old), dated the collagen inside the bone at 24,600 years. They concluded that although the collagen was definitely from the mosasaur (and not bacterial), nevertheless the very recent date was probably from bacterial contamination and not from the mosasaur, unlikely opposite conclusions. (PLoS April 11 vol. 6 #4 e19445 p. 8) A team of creation based researchers obtained material from inside a Triceratops fossil bone and a duckbill dinosaur bone collected in Montana. The content of the former was dated at about 30,900 years and of the later at about 23,200 years (www.sciencevsevolution.org/Holzschuh.htm).

Two things are obvious from these numbers. Firstly they do not fit with the secular age estimates of 65-70 millions of years, but neither do they fit with the expected age of about 4500 years from the time of the flood of Noah. However there may have been less carbon14 in the air during those early years before the flood. If that were the case, then measured ratios of carbon14 to carbon12 would yield too old an age. In any case, the fact that there is any measurable carbon14 in these dinosaur and other marine reptile tissues, is a stunning denial of the idea of ages involving millions of years. It is not surprising that dinosaur discoveries continue to fascinate us!

For a related article see create.ab.ca/flip-side-of-the-midnight-sun/#more-716

Margaret Helder
October 2012

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