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Museum’s Dinosaur Exhibit Not Too Witte

Velociraptor

Over Spring Break during a trip to visit some friends in Texas, our family had the chance to go to the Witte (pronounced “witty”) Museum in San Antonio, which happened to be hosting a traveling exhibit called, Dinosaurs Unearthed: Bigger. Better. Feathered….

Claiming to feature “the world’s largest and most advanced life-sized animatronic dinosaurs,” more than anything else the exhibit seemed to showcase many fossils that have been found in China in recent decades. Among them were Yangchuanosaurus (an allosaur cousin), Omeisaurus (a sauropod), Huayangosaurus (a stegosaur), and Angustinaripterus (a pterosaur). It also had a few non-Chinese dinosaurs, such as Allosaurus and Dilophosaurus. However, with China having become the epicenter of bird fossils, as well as what many evolutionists have dubbed “feathered dinosaurs,” the focus was clearly on feathers, whether the evidence supports it or not.

To drive home this point (and rather hard-handedly, at that), the creators of Dinosaurs Unearthed: Bigger. Better. Feathered… attached filament-like “protofeathers” onto the “life-like” mechanized models of many of its featured stars. Entering the exhibit, we encountered what looked like a giant ostrich. It turned out to be Gigantoraptor, a 16-foot-tall, beaked dinosaur covered from head to toe and tail tip with a coat of yellowish-green feathers. Discovered in 2007 in China by paleontologist Xing Xu, the misnamed Gigantoraptor is neither a raptor nor a bird but a huge member of the Ornithopod (bird-footed) family of dinosaurs. In fact, according to Xu, no direct evidence of feathers was found with its bones.[1] You would never guess that from the model that stood before us. But this was just the beginning of the propaganda campaign on display at the Witte.

Gigantoraptor

Gigantoraptor

Leaving no room for doubt and supposedly based on “the most current scientific findings,” all of the Chinese dinosaurs that evolutionist are calling “transitional species” between dinosaurs and birds were covered in long, lacey “down,” with actual feathers placed in strategic locations like along their elbows and heads. In trying a bit too hard to sell the dinosaur-bird connection, with all the hair-like downy feathers dangling from the dinosaurs’ limbs, many of them looked like a ridiculous cross between over-grown chickens and orangutans! By the end of our tour, instead of a museum showcasing scientific finds, I felt like we were visiting a fantasy animatronic aviary.

What fossil evidence for dinosaur feathers was provided? As with Gigantoraptor, the exhibit was long on speculation and short on facts. It did have two actual casts of fossilized bones with feather impressions surrounding them found in supposedly 120-134-million-year-old, early Cretaceous sediments in China. However, Longipteryx and Yanornis were acknowledged to be birds. And these types of displays were dwarfed by made-up facsimiles, like that of the two-foot-tall model of another known bird, Confuciusornis (actually a pigeon-sized fowl with two long tail feathers), displayed with an oversized, “hairy” Velociraptor. The accompanying caption suggested how “eerily” similar the two appeared. However, even with its silly protofeathers, to me the Witte’s model of a Velociraptor dinosaur looked more like a reptilian hippie on steroids than the over-stuffed Confuciusornis.

Confuciusornis_b[1]      Confuciusornis

Confusiusornis (left) cast                       Confusiusornis model

Confuciusornis (top) & Velociraptor (below)

Kissin’ Cousins?

Importantly, not only are bird fossils found in the same formation but in rocks evolutionists date at 70-80 million years older. In other words, the so-called “transitional species,” like Confuciusornis, Microraptor and Sinosauropteryx (a “fuzzy-tailed,” iguana-sized theropod), were contemporaries of or evolved after fully-formed birds. Perhaps this was an attempt by birds unhappy with the ability to fly to revert to their original “lizardy” selves? Such nonsense is the confusion that results from trying to force evolutionary explanations on facts that don’t support it.

So, while the Longipteryx and Yanornis bird displays were diminished and pushed aside, great effort went into making questionable species used to claim early, filament-like “feathers” larger than life—literally. For example, the exhibit’s two Velociraptor models were blown up to twice their normal size so viewers couldn’t miss them in all their imagined feathery glory. Actual Velociraptor fossils show they stood only two to three feet tall.

Velociraptor-2

Velociraptor #2

To top it all off, near the end of the exhibit an information panel stated that scientists have discovered recent evidence that even the mighty T.rex sported a coat of downy feathers as a juvenile, which it shed on its way to adulthood. It just shows the lengths evolution went to make sure that we understand that the dinosaur-bird connection is true. Why, if the most terrible and popular dinosaur that ever lived wore feathers as a teenager, how can we doubt that other less “terrible lizards” didn’t dare to, as well? Amazing isn’t it?

T.rex feather info  IMG_5861

“T.rex…began life as a…feathered baby.”                             “Adolescent T.rex”

Evidence for tyrannosaur feathers comes solely from the Liaoning Province of China and is based on a just few specimens, all identified by Xing Xu. The first came from a small tyrannosaurid about 5-6 feet long called Dilong paradoxus (Emperor Dragon), some of whose fossilized bones were accompanied by “filaments, ” which Xu identified as “protofeathers” in a 2004 report from Nature magazine.[2] Here are photographs and sketches of those structures from that report:

Filaments

A newer tyrannosaur species, also identified by Xu in 2012,[3] came from the same region in China, the early Cretaceous Yixian Formation dated at 125 million years. Called Yutyrannosaurus (Feathered Tyrant), Chinese fossil dealers found the fossils of three individuals—one 30-foot-long adult and two juveniles—all of which possessed such filaments up to eight inches long in different parts of their bodies, including neck, legs and tail. While these filamentous structures were admittedly “patchy” and not well preserved in any of the three specimens, Xu nonetheless concluded that Yutyrannosaurus “had an extensive insulative coat of feathers” and claims this as proof of large feathered dinosaurs, not just the small, bird-like specimens of previous discoveries or even Dilong.

However, this is far from settled science, and basing an entire exhibit on such sketchy evidence is highly irresponsible, if not blatantly deceptive. Indeed, as noted by many creationists, such as Dr. Jonathan Sarfati and Brian Thomas, even evolutionary scientists like paleo-ornithologist Dr. Alan Feduccia, Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina, have been highly critical of the evidence for feathered dinosaurs.[4] According to Dr. Feduccia, the “filamentous structures” reported by Xu et al. are not feathers or even “protofeathers,” but are more likely to be collagenous support fibers inside the dinosaur’s skin.[5] Feduccia’s research demonstrated how cartilage fibers in the skin persist longer into the decomposition process, and thus stand a better chance of preservation than other skin components.[6] Indeed, I have often seen the fossilized dinosaur ligaments preserved along with bones while excavating dinosaurs. A 2012 article by Mr. Thomas,[7]as well as one from 2003 by Dr. Sarfati, further detail the subject.[8]

In addition to these scientific objections about feathers on Yutyrannosaurus, there are problems with its identification as a member of the Tyrannosaurus family to begin with. For instance, it had three fingers on its hands, which is typical of allosaurs not two-fingered tyrannosaurs. So it’s possible that the “feathered tyrant” may actually turn out to be a non-feathered cousin of Allosaurus. In any case, depicting a juvenile T.rex with a coat of hairy feathers is a Grand Canyon-sized leap—especially when Xu himself stated that “there is certainly no direct fossil evidence for the presence of feathers in gigantic Late Cretaceous tyrannosauroids.”[9] By this he was specifically referring to North American species like Tyrannosaurus rex.

Allosaurus

Allosaurus

To be fair, some of the models at the Witte Museum were impressive, especially the life-sized Allosaurus. But, all in all, Dinosaurs Unearthed: Bigger. Better. Feathered… seems to be a desperate attempt by evolutionists to convince the public that dinosaurs really did evolve into birds. Its use of blatantly misleading propaganda tactics increasingly typifies modern science education. Much like a 2011 exhibit at the Museum of Nature & Science in Dallas, while great boasts were made about the certainty of the supposed dinosaur-bird connection, almost no real evidence was given.[10] And just as the museum’s bogus claim that its electronic, as opposed to hydraulic, animatronics “capture some of the most life-like motions ever created” falls flat (the movements were stiff and robotic as ever)—as far as truly enlightening the public  goes the exhibit is a bust. It’s all smoke and mirrors or, as Shakespeare put it, “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” As Dr. Feduccia put it in a 2005 press release from the University of North Carolina, as quoted by creationist David Catchpoole in Creation magazine:

With the advent of “feathered dinosaurs” we are truly witnessing the beginnings of the meltdown of the field of paleontology, he said. Just as the discovery of a four-chambered heart in a dinosaur described in 2000 in an article in Science turned out to be an artefact, feathered dinosaurs too have become part of the fantasia of this field. Much of this is part of the delusional fantasy of the world of dinosaurs, the wishful hope that one can finally study dinosaurs at the backyard bird feeder.[11]

Sadly, this is modern science education—99% Hollywood and 1% fact. Unfortunately, this sort of exhibit is likely a portent of things to come, and even worse, to be believed by a public largely ignorant of scientific facts. So reader beware: Dinosaurs Unearthed: Bigger. Better. Feathered…is likely coming to a theater, that is, a museum near you.


[1] Xu, X.; Tan, Q.; Wang, J.; Zhao, X.; Tan, L. (2007). “A gigantic bird-like dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous of China.” Nature 447 (7146): 844–847. doi:10.1038/nature05849. PMID 17565365.

[2] Xu, X., Norell, M. A., Kuang, X., Wang, X., Zhao, Q., Jia, C. (2004). “Basal tyrannosauroids from China and evidence for protofeathers in tyrannosauroids”. Nature 431 (7009): 680–684. doi:10.1038/nature02855. PMID 15470426.

[3] Xu, X.; Wang, K.; Zhang, K.; Ma, Q.; Xing, L.; Sullivan, C.; Hu, D.; Cheng, S. et al. (2012). “A gigantic feathered dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of China” (PDF). Nature 484: 92–95. doi:10.1038/nature10906. PMID 22481363.

[4] Sarfati, J., ‘Feathered’ dinos: no feathers after all! 24 July 2012, <www.creation.com/feathered-dino-no-feathers-after-all#postscripts>, 7 August 2007.

[5] Feduccia, A., Lingham-Soliar, T., and Hinchliffe, J.R., Do Featured Dinosaurs Exist?: Testing the Hypothesis on Neontological and Paleontological Evidence, J. Morphology 266:125–166, 2005 | DOI: 10.1002/jmor.10382.

[6] Sherwin, F. and B. Thomas. 2012. Did Some Dinosaurs Really Have Feathers? Acts & Facts. 41 (6): 16-17. www.icr.org/article/did-some-dinosaurs-really-have-feathers.

[7] Thomas, B. 2012. One-Ton ‘Feathered’ Dinosaur? ICR News. Posted on icr.org April 27, 2012, accessed April 12, 2013. www.icr.org/article/6769.

[8] Sarfati, J., New four-winged feathered dinosaur? 28 January 2003, <www.creation.com/new-four-winged-feathered-dinosaur#postscripts>, 7 August 2007.

[9] Xu, X.; Wang, K.; Zhang, K.; Ma, Q.; Xing, L.; Sullivan, C.; Hu, D.; Cheng, S. et al. (2012). “A gigantic feathered dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of China”. Nature  484: 92–95. doi:10.1038/nature(10906).

[10] Thomas, B. Feathers Missing from ‘Feathered Dinosaur Display. ICR News. Posted on icr.org August 25, 2011, accessed April 12, 2013. www.icr.org/article/feathers-missing-from-feathered-dinosaur.

[11] Catchpoole, D., Dinosaur feather folly, March 2007, <creation.com/dinosaur-feather-folly>.

 

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