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How are dinosaur remains fossilised?


The primary type of fossilisation referred to when investigating dinosaur remains is that of permineralisation (or permineralization) where the animals are killed by some catastrophe (e.g. drowning) and then buried quickly afterward, preserving bone, soft tissue, etc. In time, surrounding burial minerals begin to 'permeate' the carcase voids. As long as this process remains uninterrupted, it will continue to replace decaying organic material until all that is left is a hardened mineral deposit taking a form of the original biological matter.


Fossil finds are increasingly appearing with only partial permineralisation, where the fossilisation process has not fully completed. These specimens contain unfossilised dinosaur bone and soft tissue including bone and blood cells, proteins (e.g. collagen), DNA fragments, blood vessels and nerves.


In 1992 the scientific world was stunned by the reported discovery of red blood cells in the bone femur of a Tyrannosaurus rex. The controversial findings were hotly disputed but, since then, there have been multiple research reports of soft tissues found, not only in dinosaur remains (in Jurassic strata), but also lower down in the geological column. These include the discovery of chitin from the middle Cambrian Burgess shale.


These soft tissues have been investigated by researchers at laboratories all over the world. There are now well over 100 papers published in the scientific literature documenting experimental observation of soft tissues in the geological column dating back (under the conventional dating scheme) to over 500 million years.


What are soft tissues?

The 1992 discovery of was made visible using an optical microscope showing red blood cells in flexible blood vessels. Later analysis concluded the presence of bone cells, proteins such as collagen, histones, amino acid hydroxyproline and other fragile biochemicals. In 2013 Mary Schweitzer and her colleagues in North Carolina and Palo Alto CA, published results in the journal Bone presenting "...multiple lines of evidence consistent with the presence of DNA in dinosaurs". Documentaries have been made and audiences have gasped when microscope video images of stretchable soft dino tissue have been shown for these now-extinct animals.


The resulting evidence presents us with two obvious possibilities:


  1. Under the right conditions, organic matter has a MUCH longer shelf life (hundreds of millions of years?) than previously thought (a view currently held by Mary Schweitzer)


  2. Dinosaurs lived more recently than currently accepted (thousands of years ago?)

Significance of the facts?
The problem is that blood cells, bone cells, fragile protein and DNA should not be able to last that long. The molecular Chemistry of life is organic and organic remains decay over much shorter timescales than tens of millions of years. It’s like finding a hamburger with soft meat and blood cells in place after 65 million years…

So what?
So what does this mean? Science has to go where the evidence leads or it ceases to be science. The extent and abundance of soft tissue organic materials in fossils throughout the geological column is consistent with a much younger time frame for earth’s history than is currently believed. We need an evidence-based conversation about these research questions as we search for the truth in science. 

Follow the journey as it unfolds in 'The Dinosaur Project'

Recent scientific evidence raises questions not only about Earth’s timescale but about the human race itself. If the timescale for earth's history is much shorter than is currently believed, how is evolution possible and how did we (homo sapiens) come to be on planet earth at all?

Tyrannosaurus Rex complete skeleton
Allosaurus blood cell soft tissue
Isolated Triceratops soft bone osteocyte (bone cell) under light microscopy with elongated filipodia.
Stegosaurus 12 century carving in Cambodian temple
Geologic spiral timeline
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