Author: Chris Nedin ( Title: On _Archaeopteryx_, Astronomer

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====================================================================== Author: Chris Nedin ( Title: On _Archaeopteryx_, Astronomers, and Forgery Update: 9/1/94 ====================================================================== . . . On _Archaeopteryx_, Astronomers and Forgery INTRODUCTION _Archaeopteryx lithographica_ is regarded as one of the most important fossils ever discovered. This isn't because of any uniquely transisional nature, since many transitional forms exist (e.g. the synapsid to mammal transition), but due to the fact that _Archaeopteryx_ is such a good example of evolution. The skeleton is essentially reptilian, with close affinities to theropod dinosaurs, and possesses teeth, a long bony tail, abdominal ribs and three digits on each hand - characters absent in birds. However, the specimens also show certain bird characters such as a furcula (wishbone) and a retroverted pubis (characters also shared with some dinosaurs) and a opposable hallux (big toe) for perching. Along with these other avian characters, the most spectacular feature is the distinct impression of feathers around the forelimbs and tail, feathers almost exactly like those of modern birds. The authenticity of _Archaeopteryx_, or more specifically theauthenticity of the feather impressions, was questioned in 1985 by a group which included, Prof. F. Hoyle (astronomer), Dr. N. Wickramasinghe (mathematician), Dr. L. Spetner (physicist), Dr. R. Watkins (medical doctor) and J. Watkins (photographer) in a series of articles published in the British Journal of Photography (Hoyle et al. 1985; Watkins et al. 1985a, 1985b, 1985c). Interestingly, one of the authors (Dr. Spetner) was claiming that _Archaeopteryx_ was a fake as early as 1980 (Trop 1983). Apparently on the sole fact that the London specimen was sold by Dr.C Haberlein and the Berlin specimen was sold by Dr Haberlein's *son*! (The Harberleins were well known collectors, possessing one of the finest collections of Solnhofen fossils). Needless to say, these claims were vigourously opposed by the British Museum of Natural History (BMNH). Several people within the Museum collaborated to refute the claims of forgery. These were A. Charig (chief curator of fossil amphibians, reptiles and birds, BMNH), A. Milner (principle scientific officer - fossil amphibians, reptiles and birds, BMNH), C. Walker (senior scientific officer, fossil amphibians, reptiles and birds, BMNH), F. Greenaway (principle photographer, BMNH) and P. Whybrow (photographer, BMNH). WATKINS ET AL. OPENING STATEMENTS. In the first part of their claim that the feather impressions were a forgery, Watkins et al. stated that, "Although several other reptilian fossils have subsequently been reclassified as _Archaeopteryx_, the first two refered to above [the London and Berlin specimens - cn] remain unique in that they are clearly of the same prototype and possess unmistakable feather imprints." (Watkins et al. 1985a, p. 264-265). This was reiterated by Hoyle et al. (1985), who suggested that the feather impressions on the Teyler, Eichstatt and Maxberg specimens were too poor to be accepted as feathers. This is incorrect. It is true that none of the other specimens have feather impressions as good as those found on the London and Berlin specimens and that the recognition of feathers on the Teyler specimen would not be possible without reference to the London and Berlin specimens. However, the Eichstatt specimen has clear feather impressions and the Maxberg specimen has impressions in which the structure of the feather is discernable as being typical of that in modern birds (de Beer 1954; von Heller 1959; Charig et al. 1986). Not only that, the feathers of the Maxberg specimen clearly refute any possibility of forgery because they continue *under* the bones of the skeleton and are overlain by dendrites (von Heller 1959; Charig et al. 1986). (Dendrites are crystal aggregates occurring along flat surfaces, with a tree-like branching pattern. They often occur in cracks or along bedding planes.) Another statement is, "The significance of _Archaeopteryx_ lies in the fact that it represents the only unquestionable case of a fossil showing a transition between two vertebrate classes, aves (birds) and reptilia (reptiles)." (Watkins et al. 1985a, p. 256). Again, this is incorrect. There are numerous examples in the fossil record, with probably the best documented example being the trasition between the synapsid reptiles and the mammals (e.g. Kemps 1982; Benton 1990; Colbert & Marales 1991). A third statement concerns the photography itself. In 1984, Watkins et al. took comprehensive photographs of the London specimen, held at the BMNH, on colour transparency film with a hand-held 35 mm SLR camera and low angle tangential flash lighting. The resulting slides were then enlarged by projecting the slide onto a distant screen and by making black and white prints (Watkins et al 1985a). When describing the technique used by Watkins et al., they comment, "Such [photographic] studies have been made earlier but these have inevitably been limited by the techniques available in the past." (Watkins et al. 1985a, p. 265) This is also incorrect. As the response from the Museum indicates, "As professional photographers we have studied the fossil under various combinations of light sources, emulsions, ultraviolet reflectance and fluorescence, filtered UV fluorescence, intensive scanning by infrared TV and high photomicrography. These studies have taken place over a number of years." (Parmeter & Greenaway 1985, p. 458). Indeed, far from being in any way superior to other methods, "the cursory examination and poor photographs of the authors of the articles [Watkins et al. - cn] bear no comparison with the close scrutiny and exacting standards of the Museum." (Parmeter & Greenaway 1985, p. 458). The photographs themselves have too much contrast and too soft a focus (Charig et al. 1986), making detailed study difficult and these "newer photographs compare extremely unfavourably with photographs of the same specimen taken by museum photographers who, several decades ago, were already using low-angle oblique lighting with far greater success" (Charig et al. 1986. p. 623). (See de Beer 1954 for an example of this.) Indeed, Watkins et al. "readily concede the rudimentary nature of their photography, but were looking in the time available for evidence to prove or disprove certain specific theories. Ideally they might first have inspected the Museum's photographic records, but, as ever, those holding controversial views preferred to look for themselves before disclosing them" (Crawly 1985, p. 458). In yet another statement, the authors state, "It is now generally believed that the skeleton is largely reptilian except for the furcula (wishbone) which is bird-like" (Watkins et al. 1985a, p. 256). This is misleading. The opposable hallux is also an avian feature as is the position of the pelvis (although this also occurs in some dinosaurs) (see for instance, Ostrom 1976). THE MAIN CLAIMS AND EVIDENCE, FOR AND AGAINST Using a series of photographs, Watkins et al. claimed that the feather impressions were fakes. The method used to create the forgery was via the pressing of chicken feathers into a thin layer of artificial cement surrounding a small reptile skeleton. (It should be noted here that although one of the authors - Dr. Spetner - claimed that chicken feathers were used, the impressions do not correspond to chicken feathers, but are more like rail feathers). The cement would have been made by mixing limestone from the same deposit with some binder and which was spread thinly over the surface of the slabs. As corroboratory evidence of this several observations were cited: i) The difference between the surface textures of the limestone in the feathered and unfeathered areas was cited as evidence of the presence of a cement layer around the feathers (Watkins et al. 1985a). The difference in surface texture is certainly real. However Charig et al. (1986) explain it as being due to the impression of the animals body on parts of the surface. An analogy used was likening it to the differences in texture seen between a human footprint in mud and the surrounding mud. "In other words, it was the feather impressions that caused the differences in surface texture; not that a difference in surface texture (due to some other cause) pemitted the preservation of the impressions in some places and prevented it in others" (Charig et al. 1986, p. 623). If a layer of cement is present, then some sort of discontinuity should be visible between the true limestone and the cement, on the surface and/or in vertical section (a vertical section is a section cut through the slab, at 90 degrees to the fossil). No such discontinuity has been found, even in vertical section. There does appear to be a division in vertical section whereby an upper 500-850 micrometre (1 micrometre = 1/1000 millimetre) layer is separated from the lower layer by a dark band. However, the upper layer shows the same granular structure as the lower layer and the structure is continuous through gaps in the dark band (Charig et al. 1986). Also the complete lack of air bubbles and the presence of calcite crystals indicate that the whole section is original. Besides, the upper layer is far too thin to receive any feather impressions (Charig et al. 1986). A further point worth raising here is that any organic bonding material available to a forger in the 19th century for mixing cement would have shown some evidence of cracking or shrinking away. No such cracking or shrinkage has been observed. ii) The presence of detailed feather impressions on the main slab, coupled with their absence on the general surface of the counterslab was taken as evidence that the cement layer on the counterslab was removed either because it was too difficult to match the feather impressions or that material fell off when the counterslab was hammered (Hoyle et al. 1985; Watkins et al. 1985b). Supporting evidence was claimed to be . iii) The occurrence on the slabs of smooth, flattened, slightly elevated areas resembling "blobs of chewing gum" (Watkins et al. 1985a, p. 265), only a few millimetres in length and not always matched by corresponding depressions on the opposite slab (Watkins et al. 1985b), some bearing faint but detailed feather impressions. This was claimed to be fragments of the lost cement layer which was not fully removed (Watkins et al. 1985b). Hoyle et al. (1985, p. 694) stated that these "blobs" are "without any place to go should the main slab and counterslab be closed like the leaves of a book." In other words they claimed that the slab would not fit tightly with the counterslab since the "blobs" did not correspond to any depression in the counterslab. These "blobs of chewing gum" appear to be natural irregularities in the surface of the slab. Indeed, "careful casting of the surfaces of both main slab and counterslab shows that there is always a good fit between the two, except where it has been destroyed by subsequent preparation. In no case is there an elevation on one slab 'without any place to go should the main slab and counterslab be closed like the leaves of a book.'" (Charig et al. 1986, p. 623). iv) The regularity of the side veins of the feather impressions was claimed to indicate a forgery, since the limestone could not have split so evenly as to break along the length of the feathers (Watkins et al. 1985b). The Solnhofen Limestone is well known for its smooth, level bedding planes along which it readily splits, providing an ideal, flat, smooth surface for use in printing and for exposing fossils. The extremely fine texture, essential for printing, is ideal in preserving the most delecate anatomical structres, such as the medusae of jellyfish, the hairlike setae of crustaceans and the wing menbranes of pterosaurs (Charig et al 1986; Barthel et al. 1990). v) The apparent "double strike phenomenon" was claimed to indicate that the same feather was printed twice in a slightly displaced position and was thus indicative of a forgery (Watkins et al. 1985a). The reproduction of a double impression would be harder to forge that a simple single impression, thus making it unlikely that a forger would attempt such a double impression. Besides, it is also observed on the Berlin specimen and has recently been much more convincingly explained as representing two overlapping feathers (Rietschel 1985). vi) The tail is in fact one large tail feather and the caudal vertebrae are in fact the central axis of the feather (Watkins 1985a). Not only is the tail "obviously segmented" (Charig et al. 1986, p. 625), individual feathers can be seen attached to the vertebrae via ligaments (de Beer 1954; Charig et al. 1986). Apart from the above comments, Charig et al. (1986, p. 623-624) cite further evidence against a possible forgery. "Our conclusive evidence of the authenticity of the _Archaeopteryx_ holotype, however, is provided by what appear to be a number of fine lines on the main slab that run in various directions across the feather impressions in the region of the forelimb; some of them extend through the bony elements of the skeleton and on to the tail. They are difficult to spot with the naked eye, but their presence is shown with great clarity by critically lit ultraviolet photography. Associated in a few places with the more easily visible linear staining of an orange-brown colour, they are presumably hairline cracks and are generally filled with mineral matter. These cracks are also present on the counterslab in precisely the same positions." This indicates that there is no intervening cement layer between the two slabs, as does the presence of manganese dioxide dendrites which have grown over the feather impression in some areas. These too match precisely on the two slabs, even in microscopic detail (Charig et al. 1986). WHY? Watkins et al. offered two reasons for the forgery, both implicating the then Superintendent of the Natural History departments of the British Museum, Richard Owen (Runyard 1985). Firstly they suggested that Owen forged the impressions to provide evidence in support of Darwin's ideas on evolution. Given Owen's hostility towards Darwin and his ideas (not towards evolution, merely towards Darwin's ideas on evolution) this is extremely unlikely. The other reason was that Owen laid a trap for Darwin, to tempt Darwin into making a fool of himself by declaring the fossil proof of evolution and then revealing the "evidence" to be a forgery. This however is ludicrous. Owen himself made a detailed description of the specimen (Owen 1863) thus laying himself and his reputation open to ridicule should the specimen prove to be a forgery. Besides, although Darwin knew of the specimen, he made no reference to it in his works. He knew that one specimen could not prove his ideas on evolution. CONCLUSIONS The evidence claimed by Watkins et al. to indicate that the feather impressions are a forgery appear to be easily explainable by natural processes. Detailed study of the London specimen both across the surface and in vertical section have failed to provide any evidence to support the contention that a layer of cement is present. The method claimed to have been used to produce the forgery cannot explain the presence of fine lines crisscrossing the fossil, or the matching dendrites on the slab and counterslab, which occur on top of the feather imprints. The feather imprints on the Maxberg specimen, despite claims to the contrary, are clearly identifiable as such. In this case, forgery of the type envisaged by Watkins et al. can be discounted because of the fact that the impressions run underneath the bony elements of the skeleton. Something that should be obvious to anyone is that "any conclusions about the authenticity of the fossil should be based on the best possible evidence. Photographs are just one ingredient of such evidence" (Parmeter & Greenaway 1985, p. 458). Watkins et al., however, cite as evidence of their claims a set of "rudimentary," "poor" photographs having "too much contrast and too soft a focus," without looking at the much more extensive and better quality Museum photographs. The claims that the feathers of _Archaeopteryx_ are fake has been shown to be unsupported. Thus the claim that "the significance of _Archaeopteryx_ lies in the fact that it represents the only unquestionable case of a fossil showing a transition between two vertebrate classes, aves (birds) and reptilia (reptiles)" has been upheld. In other words, Watkins et al. claim that _Archaeopteryx_ represents a transitionary form, but cannot be accepted as such because it is a forgery. Since the claim of forgery has not been substantiated, _Archaeopteryx_ must therefore be an example of a transitionary form by Watkins, et al.'s own admission (notwithstanding the fact thay they mischaracterise _Archaeopteryx_ as the "only" case). I doubt however, that this particular quote will show up in any creationist literature. Christopher Nedin Thanks go to Rich Trott for suggesting improvements. This is a University of Ediacara Palaeontological Contribution. References Barthel, K.W.; Swinburne, N.H.M. & Conway Morris, S. (1990) Solnhofen: A Study in Mesozoic Palaeontology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 236pp. ISBN 052133344X. de Beer, G. (1954) _Archaeopteryx lithographica_ A study based on the British Museum specimen. British Museum, London. 68 pp. Benton, M.J. (1990) Vertebrate Palaeontology: biology and evolution. Unwin Hyman, London. pp 377. ISBN 0045660018 Charig, A.J.; Greenaway,; F. Milner, A.N.; Walker, C.A. & Whybrow, P.J. (1986) _Archaeopteryx is not a forgery. Science, 232: 622-626. Colbert, E.H. & Marales, E. (1991) Evolution of the vertebrates: a history of the backboned animals. Wiley-Liss, New York. pp 470. ISBN 0471850748 Crawley, G. (1985) _Archaeopteryx_ photographic techniques (reply). British Journal of Photography, 132: 458. von Heller, F. (1959) Ein dritten _Archaeopteryx_-Fund aus den Solnhofener Plattenkalken von hangenalttheim/Mfr. Erlanger Geologische, 31: 1-25. Hoyle, F.; Wickramasinghe, N.C. & Watkins, R.S. (1985) _Archaeopteryx_. British Journal of Photography, 132: 693-694. Kemp, T.S. (1982) Mammal-like reptiles and the origin of mammals. Academic Press, New York. pp 363. ISBN 0124041205. Ostrom, J.H. (1976) _Archaeopteryx_ and the origin of birds. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 8: 91-182. Owen, R. (1863) On the _Archaeopteryx_ of von Meyer, with a description of the fossil remains of a long-tailed species from the lithographic stone of Solenhofen [sic]. Philisophocal Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 153: 33-47. Parmenter, T. & Greenaway, F. (1985) _Archaeopteryx_ photographic techniques. British Journal of Photography, 132: 458. Rietschel, S. (1985) Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. 8th May 1985: 31. Runyard, S.A. (1985) Minutes of meeting - 23rd May 1985. Trop, M. (1983) Is _Archaeopteryx_ a fake? Creation Research Society Quarterly, September 1983: 121-122. Watkins, R.S.; Hoyle, F.; Wickrmasinghe, N.C.; Watkins, J.; Rabilizirov, R. & Spetner, L.M. (1985a) _Archaeopteryx_ - a photographic study. British Journal of Photography, 132: 264-266. Watkins, R.S.; Hoyle, F.; Wickrmasinghe, N.C.; Watkins, J.; Rabilizirov, R. & Spetner, L.M. (1985b) _Archaeopteryx_ - a further comment. British Journal of Photography, 132: 358-359, 367 Watkins, R.S.; Hoyle, F.; Wickrmasinghe, N.C.; Watkins, J.; Rabilizirov, R. & Spetner, L.M. (1985c) _Archaeopteryx_ - more evidence. British Journal of Photography, 132: 468-470.


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