Feathered dinosaur a fake?

From: Arthur V. Chadwick (chadwicka@swau.edu)
Date: Mon Jan 17 2000 - 16:57:45 EST

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    Science News

    Week of Jan. 15, 2000; Vol. 157, No. 3 All mixed up over birds and dinosaurs

    By R. Monastersky

    Red-faced and downhearted, paleontologists are growing convinced that they
    have been snookered by a bit of fossil fakery from China. The "feathered
    dinosaur" specimen that they recently unveiled to much fanfare apparently
    combines the tail of a dinosaur with the body of a bird, they say.

    "It's the craziest thing I've ever been involved with in my career," says
    paleontologist Philip J. Currie of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology
    in Drumheller, Alberta.

    The fossil, named Archaeoraptor liaoningensis, comes from the northeastern
    province of Liaoning, where local farmers have been unearthing many new
    dinosaur species, some showing evidence of downlike coats and feathers.
    Currie, Stephen Czerkas of the Dinosaur Museum in Blanding, Utah, and Xing
    Xu of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in
    Beijing announced the discovery of Archaeoraptor at a press conference in
    Washington, D.C., at the National Geographic Society last October (SN:
    11/20/99, p. 328).

    At the time, they called it a missing link between birds and dinosaurs
    because it manifested the long bony tail of dromaeosaurid dinosaurs and the
    specialized shoulders and chest of birds.

    The scientists couldn't be sure of the fossil's history because they had
    not excavated it. Spirited out of China, the specimen attracted Czerkas'
    attention when he saw it for sale in Utah. His museum arranged its purchase
    by a benefactor.

    Recently, while examining a dromaeosaurid dinosaur in a private collection
    in China, Xu decided that the Archaeoraptor fossil is a chimera. The tail
    of that dinosaur is identical to the Archaeoraptor tail, he told Science News.

    The two tails are mirror images of each other, derived from the same
    individual, says Xu. When rocks containing fossils are split, they often
    break into two fossils. Currie suspects that someone sought to enhance the
    value of Archaeoraptor by pasting one part of the dinosaur's tail to a bird

    Czerkas is reserving judgement until he can view both fossils together.
    "I've got all this other evidence suggesting the tail does belong with the
    [Archaeoraptor] fossil," he says.

    The paleontologists already had concerns about the tail because the bones
    connecting it to the body are missing and the slab shows signs of
    reworking. They had convinced themselves, however, that the two parts
    belonged together.

    Other scientists criticize the team and the National Geographic Society for
    unveiling the fossil before any detailed article had appeared in a
    scientific journal. "There probably has never been a fossil with a sadder
    history than this one," says Storrs L. Olson of the Smithsonian
    Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

    Because National Geographic published an article about Archaeoraptor before
    any formal description, credit for the scientific name now goes to the
    author of the magazine article, rather than to the scientists, says Olson.

    Currie says that the mix-up over this one fossil does not diminish the
    evidence suggesting that birds evolved from dinosaurs. It will, however,
    cause him to be more tight-lipped in the future about fossil finds until a
    journal article appears. "Certainly, I don't recommend to any budding
    scientist that they do it this way."


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