ARCHAEORAPTOR UPDATE: “Piltdown Bird”

By Jared Jackson

On October 15, 1999, the National Geographic Society, along with paleontologists Phillip Currie, Xu Xing, and scientific sculptor Stephen Czerkas, held a press conference in which three fossils were presented that allegedly “provide fresh evidence that feathers were widespread among meat-eating dinosaurs, maybe even Tyrannosaurus rex.”

One particular bird-like fossil sporting a tail was dubbed Archaeoraptor liaoningensis, and was hailed as a true missing link between birds and dinosaurs.

Before the end of the year, however, the scientists began to have, as Dr. Currie stated in a recent interview, a “great sinking feeling one hopes never to have in one’s career.”

Xu Xing, Currie’s associate in China, began to have doubts as to the authenticity of the fossil. A reptilian fossil had been discovered with an almost identical tail – could Archaeoraptor actually be two fossils (a bird fossil smashed together with a reptile) instead of one “missing link?”

On January 31, 2000, we reported the embarrassing admission in an article titled “Another Fossil Flub”. In the October, 2000 edition of the society’s magazine, an investigative report more fully disclosed some of the problems associated with what has become known as the “Piltdown Bird.”

Dr. Timothy Rowe heads up the Vertebrate Paleontology Lab at the University of Texas (Austin). He worked with Dr. Currie in examining the disputed fossil, and was present at the October 15 press conference. Presumably, he agreed with the statements made on that occasion. But since flap over Archaeoraptor’s authenticity was made public, he has had a chance to re-examine the dinobird more closely using a special CT scanning device.

Upon initial review of the scans, which took about a day to complete, Dr. Rowe observed that the specimen had been “badly shattered,” as if it were a puzzle that had been put back together. The strange thing was that all of the pieces didn’t quite fit together so well.

In fact, Dr. Rowe stated, in a recent online interview with Canada’s Discovery Channel, that only about “1/3 of the pieces really did fit together.” Most obviously, the tail and legs didn’t appear to fit at all.

His tests with the special CT scanning device also revealed these interesting facts:

(1) Archaeoraptor did not consist of a single specimen, rather, it was an assembly of several specimens.

(2) The fossil was not naturally embedded in the shale substrate. A layer of grout had been added on top of the slab, and the fossil pieces were then embedded into the grout. It was a carefully crafted mosaic.

(3) Using the CT scan, he was able to determine the order of assembly for this composite. Also, he was able to verify that the legs and tail did not originate from the same type of creature as that of the upper body.

(4) The upper part of the body (the bird part) consisted of at least thirty individual pieces. Although Dr. Rowe believes the upper part to be a unique and important find, we question whether anything can be “scientifically” established, given the fraudulent origin of this sample.

Dr. Rowe indicated that, although it seemed to be a complete skeleton, it was fairly obvious that the pieces of the fossil had been through an extensive assembly process.

How could a phony fossil like this dupe trained paleontologists? Let’s allow Dr. Currie to answer for himself. He also was recently interviewed by Jay Ingram for Canada’s Discovery Channel.

After discussing the events of October 15, 1999, and then suddenly realizing in December that there might be problems, Dr. Currie was asked this question: “When you originally saw that the tail wasn’t attached, did you think about that?”

“Well, we did, but the bulk of the evidence seemed to favor the fact that the tail actually belonged to it. We did a whole series of measurements. For example, to compare the size of the vertebrae in the tail with the size of the vertebrae in the body itself. We looked at the color of the bones themselves. We looked at the rock that they were found in, and basically concluded that, if it was found in the same quarry as was reported, that it seemed to favor that the tail actually did belong to the animal.

“Needless to say,” Curry continued, “we couldn’t prove 100% that was the case so we were still a little bit cautious about it” (emp. added, JJ).

Rewind . . .

Going back to October 15, 1999, Stephen Czerkas was a co-presenter with Dr. Currie at the National Geographic press conference. Here is what they presented to the public on that day:

“Archaeoraptor is remarkably significant . . . it’s no longer just a bird, it’s clearly a dinosaur. It has that combination that truly makes this a missing link . . . so many deny there is [sic] such things. Well, this clearly is a missing link and it’s one that unites dinosaurs to birds” (emp. added, JJ).

There was no doubt, no caution – only 100% arrogant assertion.

So, if there were doubts, if they were cautious, why did they go ahead and make such bold claims?

Dr. Currie responds to that question:

“Well, at that time, the best evidence we had was that the tail did belong, and we had pretty well convinced ourselves that it did. Even at this stage, we’re not 100% sure it doesn’t until we get the two specimens together and compare them and even take the tail off one and put it next to the tail of the other – we’re still not 100% sure.”

One can always hope.

They convinced themselves that they had in their hands the discovery of a “true” missing link. In spite of the fact the tail was never actually attached to the upper body, they had taken measurements. The bones in the tail were comparable to the bones in the body. The color of the fossilized bones were similar, and the rock . . . It was all so, so scientific.

The “scientists” saw what they wanted to see. They “became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened” (Rom. 1:21).

How many other measurements have been taken of various teeth and bones that “prove” evolution, but are merely the result of frenzied excitement?

Even to this moment, they’re holding out hope that the tail might still belong to the bird. Meanwhile, someone is walking around with the $80,000 that someone paid for this “remarkably significant, missing link.”

What is remarkably significant is that even though this whole turn of events has been debunked as another “Piltdown” episode, you scarcely can find any mention of it on the National Geographic web site. You still can, however, read all about Archaeoraptor and his fine, feathered friends. They even have a picture of him.

You can view the complete “Piltdown Bird” interviews with Dr. Rowe and Dr. Currie on EXN.ca, Canada’s Discovery Channel.

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About the Author

Jared Jackson is a Christian, a husband, and a dad and friend to two boys who occasionally writes on the topics that interest him most: family, faith, and business. He is the son of Wayne and Betty Jackson. He manages and maintains the Christian Courier website.