Think, creationists, think

I was reading this gushing review of Mark Armitage’s work by Dr Jay Wile, who was “voted #1 by the readers of Practical Homeschooling magazine.” Armitage is the microscope technician who claims to have discovered intact cells in dinosaur bone. He’s full of it. But I have to say I appreciate the unwitting way Wile tears apart Armitage’s work while thinking he’s praising it.

Here’s an easy one. You’d think someone with a Ph.D. in nuclear chemistry would understand that this is garbage:

A couple of years ago, for example, a sample of the fossil was analyzed for carbon-14 content. If it really is 65 million years old, there should be no carbon-14 in the fossil. Nevertheless, carbon-14 was found. Of course, there is always the chance that the carbon-14 is the result of contamination, but combined with the presence of soft bone cells, it seems obvious to me that the fossil is significantly younger than 65 million years!

C14 dating uses the ratio of carbon isotopes; it can’t be used on material above about 50,000 years because the quantity of carbon-14 is too low to be reliable, not because it’s nonexistent. If the bone was really young, you wouldn’t just be reporting that there was some C14 in it, you’d be reporting an age derived from a ratio.

But now for the real nonsense: the cells are just there, requiring no chemical isolation.

This soft tissue didn’t require any chemical procedure to isolate. It was simply there, inside the horn. He describes the sample as “soft, stretchy fibrillar bone,” and the light microscope image clearly shows the bone cells embedded in the tissue. Thus, this isn’t some biofilm left behind by bacteria or some other form of contamination. This is soft bone tissue from the horn itself, as evidenced by the bone cells embedded therein.

But wait, no! It does take long chemical processing to extract these cells!

While all of these images are incredible, he saves the best for last. Using a six-week process involving a weak acid, dialysis tubing, and distilled water, he was able to isolate individual bone cells. Look at the photo at the top of this post. It is of an individual Triceratops bone cell, as seen with a standard light microscope. The final two images of Armitage’s paper show two bone cells like the one above. They are free of any surrounding tissue, and one of them shows what appears to be the cell’s nucleus! If I hadn’t been told that these cells came from a Triceratops fossil, I would think they had come from a living animal’s bone tissue.

Which is it? From that description, though, I have to wonder — that is a protocol that opens the door to lots of opportunities for contamination. How meticulous is this technician’s procedure? That question is moot, because he quotes Armitage’s description of the fossil bone sample.

The remarkable preservation of delicate ultrastructures such as filopodia and cell-to-cell junctions (white arrows, Figures 6 and 7) has resisted a simple explanation despite hypothesized temporal limits on molecular preservation over millions of years. In the case of soft vessels recovered from dinosaur femur specimens, it seems reasonable that these tissues were sequestered from the elements and from biological scavenging activity because of deep encapsulation within compact bone. Within the Triceratops horn, however, which was highly vascular, no sequestration was likely because all of the vessels were openly exposed to air, soil, water, scavengers, dissolved salts and minerals, and the freeze-thaw cycle and heat of Montana seasonal weather; yet a high degree of preservation persists. While plant roots, fungal hyphae, and insect remains were all found traversing the horn, soft fibrillar sheets of bone and well-preserved osteocytes remain.

Unbelievable. Utterly unbelievable. He just compromised his own results, and Wile obliviously calls this the most important part of the article. I agree, but not for the reasons Wile thinks.


  1. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    If I hadn’t been told that these cells came from a Triceratops fossil, I would think they had come from a living animal’s bone tissue.

    The evidense [sic] for the former is ________ ??
    seems you prefer the least probable explanation, than the more reasonable, eh?
    Scientific bigotry calls that “magic thinking”.
    good luck with that. X-(

  2. bcwebb says

    Amazingly, despite washing and exposure to the elements, I have found intact triceratops tissue between my toes!
    How do I know it’s triceratops, because I say so!

  3. cartomancer says

    There certainly is a head cavity containing bone tissue in this story, but it’s not the one Mr. Armitage thinks…

  4. starskeptic says

    microscope technician? – isn’t that the person who cleans and maintains the microscope?

  5. The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge says

    Don’t they know that if you find live dinosaur cells they will grow and multiply into a giant creature that will half-destroy the world despite increasingly desperate measures, until finally, after 90 minutes, someone thinks: “Hey, I know! Let’s set it on fire!”

    Have the movies taught us nothing?

  6. robro says

    The Very Reverend — “Let’s set it on fire?” Can’t happen. It will just get in the water. No, to destroy the monster, you need Dr. Serizawa’s Oxygen Destroyer.

  7. Larry says

    I would think they had come from a living animal’s bone tissue

    Or, more likely, the forgotten potato I found living in the back of my pantry for quite some time. I tossed it. Have I committed some egregious crime against science?

  8. blf says

    Live dinosaur cells? The mildly deranged penguin looks forward to resuming sipping glasses† of fine vins in the sun accompanied by a large selection of freshly-caught wild cheeses with her numerous scaly and proto-tuxedoed friends, even if they are prone to farting.‡

      † Well, in her case, barrels of vins,

      ‡ No-one ever mentions that habit. Dinosaurs could be large, fearsome-looking (albeit most were quite polite, apologizing before biting you in half), and snored something terrible, but for some reason their flatulence is never mentioned.

  9. numerobis says

    There’s aisles of live dinosaur cells at the grocery store, but unfortunately only from therapods.

  10. emergence says

    From the photos, the descriptions of the sources of contamination, and the discriptions of the alleged tissue, what are these cells most likely actually from?

  11. numerobis says

    Insects crawling through the fossil that roots have grown through?

  12. robro says

    Marcus @ #8 — It’s well known that Godzilla is the result of nuclear testing on the remote Pacific island called Odo Island. Dr. Yamane established that when he went there and discovered Godzilla’s radioactive footprints and a trilobite. It’s unlikely that “nuking” is going to phase it. In fact, it might just make him bigger and meaner.

  13. gijoel says

    And then what? Will they clone these cells and create Ken Ham’s Bronze age park. Will actors in pseudo-bible garb roamed the park with the dinosaurs. Will God send another meteor to wipe them out, cause the dinosaurs were all sodomites, or Mormons, or soemthing??

  14. emergence says

    I’m wondering if there’s any way that a real scientist can get ahold of some of those samples to figure out what those cells really are. Maybe if there’s any DNA present it should be sequenced. At the very least someone should look at the photos of the structures and compare them to actual osteocytes and bone fibrils. Otherwise these idiots will parade this around nonstop.

  15. chrislawson says

    emergence — why would real scientist be interested? The sample is contaminated, the person who owns the sample has no idea how to care for it, and any findings by competent scientists will be ignored anyway.

  16. chrislawson says

    “C14 dating uses the ratio of carbon isotopes; it can’t be used on material above about 50,000 years because the quantity of carbon-14 is too low to be reliable, not because it’s nonexistent.”

    While the decay function asymptotes to but never reaches zero, in practical terms the fraction of an element remaining eventually reaches Avagadro’s number. In the case of C14 and its 5730-year half-life, there will be nothing left of an original 18g sample some time after 436,000 years. Which means that a genuine triceratops bone which must be at least 65 million years old will have no original C14 atoms remaining. Now of course this relies on the investigator having an intact, original, uncontaminated triceratops bone.

  17. says

    I’m wondering if there’s any way that a real scientist can get ahold of some of those samples to figure out what those cells really are.

    When the results came back with a diagnosis of some extant species of fungus or whatever, the Creationists would claim contamination – without the barest hint of irony…

  18. emergence says

    chrislawson @18

    I’m mostly thinking this because they’re using the presence of filopodia as evidence that the cell is an osteocyte. However, when I looked up some pictures of osteocytes, I noticed that they tend to have very large, prominent nuclei that take up a good portion of the cell’s interior, unlike the tiny structure in the picture. Also, there are other cells and even single-celled organisms that have filopodia.

    With that in mind, I’m wondering what sort of organism this is actually from. Is it possibly a dead soil-dwelling amoeba, or maybe a cell from a dead insect? Even if the creationists won’t accept counterevidence, that hasn’t stopped scientists from shooting down creationist claims before.

  19. unclefrogy says

    when looking at wild improbable claims by creationists and other kinds of religious fanatics never discount the fact that as “people of faith” they are deeply committed to a belief in miracles from god. even if the earth was 6000 years old a bone found in rock not in frozen in tundra would be unlikely to still have cells in it so it must be “a sign from god!”
    uncle frogy

  20. dhabecker says

    #14 mentioned Ken Ham. I thought he had a herd of free-range triceratops near his big boat. In fact, he’s got a stuffed one for people to ride. You can even buy Tri-top steaks at the local Piggly-Wiggly.

  21. keithb says

    @#8 and @#15
    Guys, wrong movie. I believe tvrbok is thinking of Reptillicus.

  22. ashley says
    Atheist apparently not bothered about evidence. “Of course, had Dr. Myers bothered to read my post carefully, or had he read Armitage’s peer-reviewed article, or had he read Armitage’s Microscopy Today article, he should have realized all that. But then again, why bother to read, when you aren’t willing to consider the evidence in the first place?”

    Ah yes. YECs are SO open to the evidence whenever it points to a very ancient Earth and even more ancient wider universe. SO open that they bang on about ‘worldview’ instead.

    I get regularly censored by YECs, including the smug Wile. Doubt I will be censored for criticising the abrasive Myers though.