Julie Thomas Archaeopteryx always makes for good origins fodder. Here is a fossil which ce

---
Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

Julie Thomas Archaeopteryx always makes for good origins fodder. Here is a fossil which certainly looks like a "reptile with feathers". So let me add my opinion to the debate which surronds this famous critter. First things first. What ever happened to Hoyle's notion about this fossil being a hoax? Did they ever scrape some feather impressioned limestone and date it? Just curious. Now, there is one thing that truly strikes me as odd about this fossil, and it is odd no matter what angle you are coming from. Here is a skeletal system which looks quite reptilian. Yet it's feathers are flight feathers which are exactly like those of a modern bird. Now you would expect some more primitive version of the feathers, but it seems as if the feather evolution was not coupled to the skeletal evolution (if it was, it was a very loose coupling). For here we have an organism, practically at the base of the bird line, and guess what, modern feathers have already been evolved. Not much else has, but flight feathers have. I find this to be quite perplexing. Anyway, what do I think of Archie? So far, I have heard two possible alternatives : God made him like this or Archie is a bird ancestor. Do these exhaust the possible explanations? Perhaps Archie is an example of convergent evolution which has nothing to do with bird ancestory. And Archie, as a hopping, feathered, reptile was simply outcompeted by true birds and thus went extinct. Who knows? But this certainly appears plausible to me. The biggest strike against Archie, as I see it, is the fossil record. We have six fossils of Archie, all from Germany (do they all have feather impressions?). Back in 1978, Jensen discovered a modern bird femur which dated at the same time as Archie (Science 199, p284). But a mere bird femur is easy to ignore, especially in light of the impressive skeletal impressions of Archie. But today, Archie is challenged again. This time, by Protoavis, discovered and described by Sankar Chatterjee (Science News, vol 140, pp104-105). This creature, as judged by it's skull and many other features, is far more bird-like than Archie. In the skull alone, Chatterlee notes 23 features which are birdlike. Many are lacking in reptiles/dinosaurs. Most importantly, Protoavis dates at 225 million years, about 75 million years before Archie and at the time of the appearence of the first dinosaurs. Now, the paleontological community has not been so accepting of this critter. Here is where the human side of science shines forth brilliantly! Let's set the stage. Archie is a premier transitional fossil. Much has been written about it, and many theories (birds evolved from dinosaurs) have been based on it. Because of this, I say that Archie has a good deal of what I call "falsification- insulation". That is, so much would fall if Archie was pulled out that there is great resistence for pulling Archie out. Now note the argument against Protoavis (listed in Science News): 1. Paleontologist Jacques Gauthier: "It's crushed, smooshed and in terrible shape". 2. Gauthier says this creature could actually be a reconstruction of different kinds of animals mixed together. 3. Reason #2 is also voiced by Storrs Olson. Olson notes that these bones were found to be unarticulated, so they had to be put back together, and when you put things like this together, you can mix up different animal bones. 4. Olson also questions Chatterjee's preparation of this fossil and claims he could have made mistakes. Now I don't know about you, but these arguments ALL sound like they come from a creationist!!! Thus, either the creationists have a point in their complaints about the interpretations which surround certain fossils, or Archie is really in trouble here. What is more, it looks like where you sit on the fence concerning the origins of birds plays a large role in how you "see" this fossil, thus underscoring the inherent subjectivity in fossil evidence. For example, those who reject the dinosaur-bird theory (like Larry Martin) are far more likely to accept Protoavis. Those who hold to this theory are far more skeptical. Remember Gauthier? He accepts this theory and says that even if Chatterjee is correct, "It doesn't alter the idea that birds are theropod dinosaurs one wit" He says that it simply shifts the chain of events earlier in time. He notes that if Protoavis was a bird, then theropod dinosaurs must have evolved even earlier. Shades of unfalsifiability! If evidence runs counter to your theory, simply recast the theory to bypass the evidence. So this leads me to ask a question to all the "falsifiabilty" people. What would it take to falsify the notion that Archie is a transitional creature between birdies and reptiles?

---

E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank