The Feather Imprints on the London Specimen of Archaeopteryx
by Gerald Duffett. (From: British Creation Science Earth Sciences Group)
Archaeoptryx is in the news again. This time there is a 'flap' on about
it's feathers. Were they imprinted at the same time as the bony skelton
impressions? Or were they fabricated after the fossil was found by man?
That is the issue and a lot more is at stake. In the past, scientists have
questioned aspects about the feathers of Archaeoptryx such as their
orientation, number and symmetry. They have also commented upon their
perfect structure and whether or not the wings displayed aquinto-cubitalism
(alternatively termed diastataxy) in their arrangement. But never has the
genuineness of the fossil imprints been formally questioned until July of
1980. That was when Dr. Lee M. SPETNER addressed orthodox Jewish
scientists meeting in Jerusalem.
The first that I learned about the allegation that the feather imprints on
'the most impressive evidence of the fact of organic evolution' was a fake,
was in a letter from Dr. Moshe TROP published September 1983 (1). He
reported upon the work of Dr. SPETNER who had examined the London specimen
very carefully using a magnifying glass and a binocular microscope.
Spetner suspected that someone had gouged out a thin layer of the limestone
in the tail and wing regions and then filled them in with cement before
carefully carving feather marks which were then allowed to harden.
SPETNER's evidence is two-fold. Firstly, the suspect feather imprints on
the main-slab are more sunken than the surrounding rock level, especially
in the tail region. Secondly, on the counter-slab there is a small blob of
apparently hardened cement. That blob is away from the wing and tail
regions and yet bears an imprint of a feather vane. But there is no
corresponding dimple in the main-slab.
Next, my attention was drawn to an article by Dr. SPETNER and five other
co-authors at the University College in Cardiff (2). They re-iterated some
of SPETNER's evidence which I have already mentioned. But the most telling
extra information was that the feathery tail (which they misnamed the
'tail-feather') was sunken about two millimetres from the surrounding
surface of the main-slab. Also, no corresponding elevation was found on
The rest of their evidence was at best circumstantial and at worst merely
insinuative. For instance, suspicions were raised on the grounds that both
feathered specimens of Archaeopteryx were supplied by members of the same
family for financial gain.
Dr Karl Haberleing supplied the London museum
and his son Dr. Ernst Haberlein supplied the Berlin museum. It was also
pointed out that the discovery of the first feathered Archaeopteryx was
soon after the publication of Darwin's "Origin of Species." Moreover, the
timing of the appearance of the first feathered fossil was shortly after
its existence had been predicated in a sketch by T.H. Huxley. Furthermore,
it was reckoned to be significant that Archaeopteryx represents the only
unquestionable case of a fossil showing a transition between two vertebrate
Before assessing SPETNER's evidence, let us consider the stages necessary
to execute the alleged forgery. Perhaps the following list is close to
what the forger could have done:
1. Acquire a fossilised skeleton of an appropriate reptile.
2. Obtain fresh feathers from an extant bird (leaving the primaries and
secondaries in place whilst removing most of the other wing feathers.)
3. Gouge out the limestone matrix in the region of the desired feathery
wings and tail.
4. Mix the cement.
5. Emplace the cement on to the prepared sunken areas on the main-slab
and also on the corresponding areas on the counter-slab.
6. Imprint the feathers on the wet cement.
7A. Either: cover the main-slab with the counter-slab whilst the fresh
feathers were sandwiched between and the cement was firm enough not to
7B. Or: after removing the feathers from the main-slab, imprint their
other surface on to the counter-slab.
8. Lift off the fresh feathers from the cemented areas.
9. Compare the alignment of the feather imprints on the main-slab with
those on the counter-slab.
10. If not satisfied, then try again from stage 6 or an even earlier
In view of the method of the forger as envisaged above, the following
questions could provide answers to illuminate the truth about those feather
imprints of Archaeopteryx.
(i) Would there have been a perfect fit between the main-slab and the
counter-slab if the feather imprints were genuine?
(ii) Although a tell-tale gap would be inevitable if stage 7A had been
implemented, would the mismatch between the slab surfaces have been
detectable if stage 7B was the alternative used by the forger.
(iii)Do any of the feathery imprinted regions show extra pressure that
could be interpreted as being caused by the fingertips of the forger
pressing down on the fresh feathers when the cement was wet?
(iv) What sort of cement was available in Bavaria during the latter half of
the Nineteenth Century and how well does it match with the colour and
grain size in the regions of the feathers close to where the tips of
the third and fourth primaries of the right wing border the original
main-slab and the original counter-slab? (An examination in those
places with a scanning electron microscope could allay the cement
accusation once and for all time, but it would not detect an etching
(v) How could the forger have gouged out the boundary around the caudal
vertebrae and later skillfully matched the lower quill ends to
convincingly simulate the connecting ligaments as reported by Sir
Gavin De BEER? (3)
(vi) Being set into lithographic limestone, was there a better and more
sophisticated method known to the forger so that he either etched on
to the rock without spoiling the bony impressions or had he a method
that etched on to cement.?
But suppose for one moment that the feathery imprints on the fossil were
artificial, where does that leave the genus Archaeopteryx? Could it easily
slip back into the reptile class when it has the following bird-like
features in its non-feathery skeletal parts?
(i) The brain is definitely bird-like.
(ii) The furcula is hypertrophied.
(iii) The pubes are long and backwardly directed.
(iv) The 3rd metacarpal is fused with the carpus.
(v) The hallux is opposable to the other toe digits.
Also, with which order of the subclass of archosaurian reptiles could
Archaeopteryx be classified if it was proved to be no longer a bird? The
most favoured option is for Archaeopteryx to be derived from Coelursaurian
theropods belonging to the subclass Saurishia. However, there are several
objections to this evolutionary link.
(a) The pelvic girdles of Archaeopteryx and birds are opisthopubic,
whereas those of ceolurosaurian saurischian reptiles are pro-pubic.
(b) Archaeopteryx possesses a reflexed opposable hallux, whereas the
proposed ancestors do not.
(c) The pretibial bones of Archaeopteryx and birds are not homologous with
the astragalus bones of theropods.
(d) The brain of Archeaopteryx resembles that of birds and only
(e) Experts such as Ostrom maintain that theropods possess only digits 1,2
and 3 in each hand, whereas bird embryos have only 2,3 and 4 in each
Finally, in my monograph (4), it was pointed out that Ornithorhynchus
anatinus (better known as the Duck-billed Platypus) has elements of not two
vertebrate classes like Archaeopteryx, but three vertebrate classed.
Yet Platypus made scientists distrust that extant species in the same
way that doubt is falling on Archaeopteryx. Whereas the feathers
of Archaeopteryx have been reckoned by some orthodox Jews to be
GRAVEN IMAGES, the first stuffed specimen of a Platypus that was
examined in Europe was decalred a taxidermist's fraud'!
1. TROP, M. Is the Archaeopteryx a fake?
Creation Research Society Quarterly. 183, 20(2), 121-2.
2. WATKINS, R.S., F. HOYLE, N.C. WICKRAMASINGHE, J. WATKINS, R.
RABILIZIROV and L. SPETNER. Archaeopteryx - a photographic
British Journal of Photography. 1985, 132(8 March), 264-266.
3. De BEER, G. Archaeopteryx lithographica.
British Museum (Natural History). 1954.
4. DUFFET,G.H. Archaeopteryx lithographica reconsidered.
Biblical Creation Society. 1983.
FOR FURTHER READING
BRITISH JOURNAL OF PHOTOGRAPHY 1985, 132(29 March).
Editorial comment, page 347. "The Journal at this stage can only adopt
the position that the weight of evidence so far available seems to balance
the matter toward's the accuser's view, but more refined testing is clearly
essential to put the matter to rest, one way or another."
Letter of M. Howgate, p. 348. "The incredible detail which can be seen
on Fig. 3 of the paper published on 8 March should rule out the cement
carving theory of Dr. Spetner (circa 1980) as a creationist fantasy."
Watkins, R.S. et al. ARCHAEOPTERYX - A FURTHER COMMENT. pages 358-9,
367. "The telling point emerges that, whereas the main slab shows
'incredible detail,' the counterslab shows nothing, aside from the 'chewing
gum,' which does indeed carry markings of a similar complexity to the main
slab. While it would doubtless be possible to invent all manner of vacuous
hypotheses to preserve the fiction of Archaeopteryx, the sensible view of
this matter is that the 'chewing gum' is a small fragment of a layer of
material once artificially attached to the underlying rock, originally
criss-crossed by presumtive feather vanes, a material which, judging from
the 'chewing gum,' had the appearance of a low-glaze porcelain."
BRITISH JOURNAL OF PHOTOGRAPHY, 1985, 132(26 April).
Letter of T. Parmenter and F. Greenaway, page 458. "As professional
photomacrographers, we have studied the fossil under various combinations
of light sources, emulsions, ultraviolet reflectance and fluorescence,
filtered UV fluorescence, intensive scanning by infrared TV, and high
photomacrography. These studies have taken place over a number of years.
Any conclusions about the authenticity of the fossil should be based upon
the best possible evidence. Photographs are just one ingredient of such
evidence. Palaeontologists from this Museum have based their judgements
upon a number of factors, and are confident that the feather imprints are
genuine. The cursory examination and poor photographs of the authors of
the articles bear no comparison with the close scrutiny and exacting
standards of the Museum. Their wild conclusions based on the thinnest of
evidence have probably grossly mislead your readers."
Comment by Editor, pages 458-9. "Having heard the explanations of the
group, the Journal felt that sufficient doubts were raised to bring the
matter to public attention. The points of doubt made do require
explanation and have not been brought to light before, despite over a
century of expert study."
Watkins, R.S. et al. ARCHAEOPTERYX - FURTHER EVIDENCE. pages 468-470.
"A crucial question remains to be answered . . . Whatever the answer might
be, the (evidence presented here) would in our opinion seem now to point
unambiguously to a forgery."
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