The curious case of the ‘unfossilized’ bones

An update to last year’s hadrosaur bone article


Dr Hirotsugu Mori

A little over a year ago, I wrote an article detailing a recent article by Dr Hirotsugu Mori and his team, formerly a researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. My article sought to draw attention to a small (but very consequential) comment made by Dr Mori as part of his published journal article, where he referred to certain duckbill dinosaur bones as “typically uncrushed and unpermineralized”.1

As I pointed out in that article, Dr Mori’s statement that the bones are unpermineralized essentially means that these bones are not fossils in the traditional sense, because they have not undergone the physical process of being turned to stone.2 This, one might think, would be a controversial and newsworthy statement— especially when coming from a secular scientific source! Obviously it could present some huge hurdles for long-age theorists to explain how bones could remain in pristine condition in a non-fossilized state for millions of years. However, the science media was calmly reporting on this new paper while completely ignoring Dr Mori’s curious statement about the condition of the bones.

After my article was posted to our website, it seemed to generate a fair amount of attention from readers at the time. But, to my surprise, one such reader contacted me by email just recently (a year later) to inform me that after reading my article, he had submitted a question to a secular science website to ask them to comment on the status of those bones. The organization had gotten back to him with an answer: they said they had contacted the author of one of the papers involved (a paper that Dr Mori had cited in his research), Dr Anthony Fiorillo, who said that the bones are permineralized.3

Serious allegations

Dr Anthony Fiorillo

Dr Fiorillo, who is the chief curator at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, Texas, is known for being one of the world’s foremost experts on the Alaskan dinosaur bones.4 His public repudiation of Dr Mori’s work did not stop there, however— he went so far as to publish a ‘comment’ on it in the same journal, Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, claiming that Dr Mori “misused” his work and cited him incorrectly.5 This accusation seems to stem from the fact that Mori’s citation of Fiorillo’s paper (perhaps inadvertently) implied that the description of “unpermineralized” came from Fiorillo, rather than Mori’s own observations as a researcher. In any case, Fiorillo is claiming that the bones contain some minerals that “are commonly introduced during the permineralization process,” and on those grounds is saying that the bones should not be referred to as unpermineralized.

Dr Mori and his team did not back down. They responded to this attack by defending their description of the bones thus:

Cranial reconstruction of the northernmost known dinosaur, Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis. (Image courtesy Hirotsugu Mori et al.)

We recognize that the bones are ferruginous in color [rust-colored] reflecting some degree of iron-bearing mineral infiltration, which technically can be categorized as permineralized. However, vertebrate paleontologists typically reserve this term for cases where mineral infiltration lines the vascular canals and trabecular spaces of bones and is visible macroscopically. We are aware that some bones in the Liscomb Bonebed exhibit this type of preservation, but maintain that it occurs in a surprisingly small, currently unquantified percentage of bones.6

So what is really going on?

After learning of this borderline hostile exchange between these groups of scientists as a result of our article, I was intrigued. I wanted to see if there was any way to get to the bottom of this dispute, so I reached out to Dr Fiorillo myself by email. To my surprise, I got a response from him, and he said that Dr Mori’s team had caused confusion because of their “loose use of language.”7 When I followed up by asking him where, in his opinion, this confusion was stemming from (why had Dr Mori used this language in the first place?), Fiorillo went silent and chose not to respond.

A well-known creation scientist from Canada, Dr Margaret Helder, wrote on the phenomenon of these allegedly unfossilized bones back in the 1990s,8 so I contacted her for her comments as well. She informed me that she had first heard about these bones in 1990 while attending a lecture by Dr Philip J. Currie, who is a renowned Canadian (secular) paleontologist and museum curator specializing in dinosaurs. According to Dr Helder, Currie stated in his lecture that the Alaskan dinosaur bones in question were not fossilized, and for that reason they were misidentified as bison bones.9

Dr Helder directed me to another source: an early article written on the Alaskan bones by Kyle L. Davies in 1987 in the Journal of Paleontology. Davies, too, used interesting language to describe the bones:

The quality of preservation is remarkable. The bones are stained a dark red brown but otherwise display little permineralization, crushing, or distortion.10

Perhaps Davies, too, was afflicted with a strange desire to use ‘loose’ language, all the way back in 1987? What can account for these different scientists, over a span of nearly 30 years, describing the bones in nearly identical language?

Concluding remarks

Without being a paleontologist myself, and without being able to personally examine the bones, I am limited to the expertise of the scientists who have examined them. After looking at all the sources available, a consistent picture is emerging. It seems that these bones are indeed mostly unpermineralized, and that is an embarrassing and difficult-to-explain fact for those who maintain these bones must be millions of years old. It runs contrary to reason and common sense to think that these bones could have survived in such pristine condition in the natural elements for such an extended period.

Dr Fiorillo seems to have come under some pressure from colleagues, in part as a result of reports from creationist organizations like ours, and perhaps does not want his own reputation to be in any way besmirched by scandal. It appears he is seizing on some superficial mineral infiltration as an escape route (not all of the bones display this equally), and is doing some linguistic sidestepping of his own by calling the bones permineralized. Since Dr Mori and his team have stood by their description of the bones as being unpermineralized, and since other scientists have also gone on record saying the same, we will continue to use this as evidence against the reigning paradigm of ‘deep time’.

Published: 15 December 2016

References and notes

  1. Mori, H. et al., A new Arctic hadrosaurid from the Prince Creek Formation (lower Maastrichtian) of northern Alaska, Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, 61(1):15–32, 2016, available online 22 September 2015 | doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.4202/app.00152.2015. Return to text.
  2. It must be noted that secular scientists will still call them fossils regardless of this, because according to them the bones are millions of years old, making them fossils by definition. That is, however, nothing more than assuming what you are trying to prove (circular reasoning) and playing games with words to obscure reality. Return to text.
  3. Unpermineralised dinosaur bones, askabiologist.org.uk, 29 October 2015. Return to text.
  4. Our team of experts, perotmuseum.org, accessed 5 December 2016. Return to text.
  5. Fiorillo, A.R. et al., Comment on “A new Arctic hadrosaurid from the Prince Creek Formation (lower Maastrichtian) of northern Alaska” by Hirotsugu Mori, Patrick S. Druckenmiller, and Gregory M. Erickson, Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 61(1):158, 2016. Return to text.
  6. Mori, H. et al., Preservation of Arctic dinosaur remains from the Prince Creek Formation (Alaska, USA): A reply to Fiorillo (2016), Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 61(1):174, 2016. Return to text.
  7. Personal email correspondence with the author. Return to text.
  8. Helder, M., Fresh dinosaur bones found, Creation 14(3):16–17, 1992; creation.com/fresh-dinosaur-bones-found. Return to text.
  9. Personal email correspondence with the author. Return to text.
  10. Davies, Kyle L., Duck-Bill Dinosaurs (Hadrosauridae, Ornithischia) from the North Slope of Alaska, J. Paleontology 61(1):198–200, 1987. Return to text.

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