Three become one

Two fish and a pterosaur locked in a fatal struggle

© 2012 Frey, Tischlinger, PLOSone skull-aspidorhymchus
Section of the specimen showing the way the animals are entangled.


An extraordinarily rare and well preserved fossil found in the famous Solnhofen Limestone deposit, Germany, has forever intertwined the lives of three animals. The fossil catches the moments just after a long-tailed pterosaur, Rhamphorhynchus, had swooped down and caught a small fish in the water, thought to be Leptolepides, when a larger predatory fish, Aspidorhynchus, managed to leap up and impale itself on the flight membrane of the pterosaur’s wing, pulling it back down to the water.

Like a Sherlock Holmes detective story!

While the smaller fish’s fate seemed certain, having just been swallowed by the pterosaur, “The fish tail yet sticking in the pharyngeal region of the throat and the excellent preservation of the tiny fish without any trace of digestion suggests that swallowing was not completed and that the Rhamphorhynchus [pterosaur] was alive and airborne during the attack”.1

Significantly this means that the pterosaur had not just recently died and was not floating in the water waiting for a scavenger to consume it. The pterosaur had just swooped down to catch the smaller fish and was part-way through swallowing it, when the Aspidorhynchus caught the Rhamphorhynchus and pulled it down into the water were it was drowned. Its left wing was mangled as its attacker furiously tried to loosen its speared snout from its oversized prey that it was not able to consume due to its size. The unusual posture of the left wing, with the entire wing finger pulled under the forearm in the fossilised remains bears testimony to the contorting, yanking and wrenching of the Aspidorhynchus as it tried to unimpale itself from the pterosaur.

Puzzles over fossilisation and rock formation

It is the death, and ultimately the exquisite preservation, of the Aspidorhynchus that becomes problematic for secular long-age geology. This is because long-age geologists do not agree on how the limestone, or the fossils it contains, were formed. While quite a number of the fossils found in the Solnhofen limestone have been documented in Creation magazine2 and secular publications before, a recent secular journal article highlights that, “In contrast to the well-studied wealth of fossils, little is known about the origin and diagenesis3 of the host rock … . Publications dealing with the sedimentary matrix, the depositional system and the diagenesis of plattenkalk4 are scarce and, to date, no satisfactory model is available to explain the depositional system or the diagenesis of plattenkalk series in general and of the Solnhofen occurrences in particular”.5 Secular long-age geologists will continue to struggle to explain the depositional system, or to create a satisfactory model for the limestone formation, as long as they persist in deliberately ignoring the biblical world-wide Flood and mingle together the clearly opposed ideology of millions of years with the extraordinary nature of the fossils found within it which require rapid deposition.

© 2012 Frey, Tischlinger, PLOSone Aspidorhynchus-Rhamphorhynchus
Specimen WDC CSG 255: an Aspidorhynchus and a Rhamphorhynchus in fatal encounter

Secular paleontologists have conflicting ideas

There are two competing hypotheses in relation to the origin of fossils in the Solnhofen limestone deposit, said to be formed in the Jurassic period about 155 million years ago, over a 0.5 million year period.6 Both hypotheses state that the area was once a warm lagoon cut off from the ocean. Proponents of the first then place their hope in an oxygen-lacking and super-salty7 layer of water at the bottom of the lagoon with a soft carbonate mud for dead animals to fall into. The toxic condition of the water supposedly prevented bacterial decay and led to an absence of scavengers, preserving any dead animal that might fall into the soft carbonate mud. However as Whitmore, who has conducted his own experiments into the decay rates of fish in a range of environments, points out, “A common misconception is that oxygen free (anoxic) environments inhibit decay. This is false; in some cases decay is just as fast, if not faster in these environments … . In fact, most decay is probably anoxic and happens in many cases from the inside out”.8 What of the case for the hypothetical lagoon lacking oxygen and being super-salty? When discussed by secular long age geologists, they concluded that “hard evidence is as yet lacking”.9

Concerning the fossils, the second theory comes closer to the truth with an admission that the fossils at Solnhofen require rapid sedimentation. Here they have some layers being laid down by storm deposits from an ocean encroachment that occasionally carried soft mud and animals into the basin of a lagoon.10

While the paper describing the fossil initially states that the death of the Aspidorhynchus (the large fish), “remains speculative”, it then went on to favour the first hypothesis stating that, “The most likely scenario is that the Aspidorhynchus fought its victim [the pterosaur] for a period of time, thereby rapidly sinking into the hostile anoxic water layer … where it was instantly suffocated. Still linked together, both carcasses sank to the sea floor”.1 This totally fails to explain the death of the Aspidorhynchus and preservation of these three animals. Unless one is biased by a millions of years framework, the case is very clear that the most likely cause of death of the Aspidorhynchus was a cataclysmic wave full of lime-rich sediment rapidly burying it, explaining the high state of preservation that we observe. It is clear that virtually no decomposition has taken place, of either Rhamphorhynchus or Aspidorhynchus, telling us that they were buried rapidly in the sediment.11

Millions of years old?

So what does this mean for the 0.5 million years that the Solnhofen limestone deposit supposedly took to form? If the fossils contained within it require extremely rapid sedimentation, how can the length of time ascribed to it still remain? The dogma of evolution is that fossils and the layers encasing them are millions of years old, a record of slow and gradual processes. But how can these three fossils, two of which were caught in the act of trying to have their dinner, be reconciled with this? Viewed correctly, this rapid burial indicates that the sediments around it must have been deposited quickly, completely refuting this dogma. So what happens to the hundreds of thousands of years over which the Solnhofen Limestone deposit was supposed to have formed? They completely fall by the wayside. It makes much more sense to ascribe the fossil record at Solnhofen, which contains a plethora of insects, marine and land animals, to the Flood at the time of Noah. During this Flood, the whole topography of the world was altered. Global geological activity and massive sediment deposition was rapid, burying animals such as the three described in this article, preserving their fossils as a result.

These beautiful and unique fossil remains, currently housed in the Wyoming Dinosaur Centre, Thermopolis, USA, are an amazing testimony to the judgment of God in the past, the true history of the Bible describing a worldwide Flood at the time of Noah and a reminder of the coming judgment in the future.

References and notes

  1. Frey, E. and Tischlinger, H., The Late Jurassic Pterosaur Rhamphorhynchus, a Frequent Victim of the Ganoid Fish Aspidorhynchus?, PLoS ONE 7(3): e31945 | doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031945, 2012. Return to text.
  2. For example, Walker, T., Death March Horseshoe Crab stopped in its tracks, Creation 25(2):54–55, 2003; and Living Fossils: the Shovelnose Ray, Creation 33(1):15, 2011; Return to text.
  3. Refers to the various physical and chemical processes that changes sediments in the formation of a sedimentary rock. Return to text.
  4. Fine-grained flat slabs of limestone. Return to text.
  5. Munnecke, A., Westphal, H. & Kolblebert, M., Diagenesis of plattenkalk: examples from the Solnhofen area (Upper Jurassic, southern Germany), Sedimentology 55(6):1931–1946, 2008; p. 1932 | doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3091.2008.00975.x. Return to text.
  6. Viohl, G., Solnhofen Lithographic Limestones; in: Briggs, D.E.G. & Crowther, P.R. (Eds), Palaeobiology: a synthesis, Blackwell Science, pp. 285-289, 1990. Return to text.
  7. Technically referred to as anoxic and hypersaline. Return to text.
  8. Whitmore, J., Fossil Preservation; chapter 14 in: Page 231 in Oard, M. & Reed, J., (Eds), Rock Solid Answers: The Biblical Truth Behind 14 Geologic Questions, Master Books, Green Forest, Arizona, 2009. Return to text.
  9. Munnecke, A. et al., ref. 5, p. 1933. Return to text.
  10. Viohl, G., ref. 6. Also, Barthel, K. W., Solnhofen: Ein Blick in die Erdgeschichte, Ott Verlag, Thun, 1978. Return to text.
  11. Long-age geologists insisted for a long time that limestone could not form quickly, but this is clearly incorrect. Another example is the Whitmore nautiloid bed in the Grand Canyon; see Walker, T., Geologic catastrophe and the young earth, Creation 32(2):28–31, 2010; Return to text.

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