Archaeological scientists are scrambling. Usually, fossilized bones — especially those that are presumed to be 65 million years old — are solid rock whose organic material was entirely replaced over time. Understandably, the world of archaeology has been shaken up by the discovery of red blood cells inside dinosaur bones. Now they’re struggling to explain why.
Bones are fossilized when they are buried by sediment and have mineral-rich water flow into them. The water is saturated with minerals of different kinds, such as calcium and silica. When this mineral-rich water flows into bones, the water fills the porous cavities within the bone.
The minerals in the water cling to the structures of the bone, and the water evaporates. Over time, as the organic material decays, this build-up of minerals tends to replace it, leaving behind a detailed imprint of the internal structure of the bone and a hardened, mineralized replica of the bone itself. This process is called permineralization.
Scientists are familiar with the fact that soft tissues can be preserved for thousands of years because they have observed this process in Egyptian mummies which they date to be upwards of 3000 years old.
But bones that are 65 million years old? There’s no chance that there’s anything resembling organic material left inside of them. Organic material decays rapidly — at least, relative to millions of years:
It has long been assumed that the process of fossilization results in the destruction of virtually all original organic components of an organism, and it has been hypothesized that original molecules will be either lost or altered to the point of nonrecognition over relatively short time spans (well under a million years). 
So imagine the scientific community’s surprise when red blood cells turned up inside t. rex bones.
T. REX BLOOD CELLS. IMPOSSIBLE, THEY SAY.
The story (sort of) begins in 2005. It really begins earlier, but we’ll come back to that.
Dr. Mary Schweitzer, a paleontologist who studied under Jack Horner (who shot to fame during the ‘90s particularly during the Jurassic Park mania), published a paper in March of that year in which she claimed to have found red blood cells and blood vessels intact inside of a tyrannosaurus rex leg bone (femur).
The t. rex femur was fossilized on the outside, but its interior, well, wasn’t.
As she noted in her paper, incredible details of feathers, soft tissues, and color patterns have been found to be preserved in the fossil record, “but in none of these cases are they described as still-soft, pliable tissues.” 
Prior to her discovery, she noted that fossils have been able to store derivatives of original organic material, even imprints so small as to store molecular information. Regarding this, she wrote “However, we demonstrate the retention of pliable soft-tissue blood vessels with contents that are capable of being liberated from the bone matrix, while still retaining their flexibility, resilience, original hollow nature, and three-dimensionality.” 
THE SECOND PAPER. THIS TIME, PROTEINS.
Two years later, in April of 2007, Dr. Schweitzer published another paper. In this paper, she claimed to have found dinosaur proteins intact. To detect potential contamination, they measured the surrounding sandstone in which the bones were buried for amino acids that make up the collagen protein. If they found any, this would heavily imply that what they detected in the bones was just contamination transferred from the burial site.
They found none.
“This finding suggests that the bone mineral is virtually unchanged from the living state and has undergone little if any alteration.” 
Rather than merely finding molecular information, Schweitzer’s team found actual molecular fragments.
Paleontologist Dr. Tom Kaye published a paper in response in 2008 that suggested that Schweitzer misinterpreted the stretchy tissues to be merely secretions from bacteria that moved into the fossils long after the original material decayed.
As Dr. Schweitzer noted in response to Kaye’s research, she welcomes skepticism, but his team “only address aspects of our study that fit conveniently with their preconceived ideas.”
So, in May 2009, Dr. Schweitzer and her team published a paper that countered Kaye’s criticisms, and she also covered her bases: she had multiple, independent labs analyze the material.  Her conclusion?
The most parsimonious explanation, thus far unfalsified, is that original molecules persist in some Cretaceous dinosaur fossils. Still unknown is the chemistry behind such preservation. 
As noted in Science Magazine in May of 2009, “The claim has remained contentious, because proteins in tissue normally degrade quickly after an animal dies.” [Emphasis added] Additionally:
“This will either be nothing or the biggest revolution in paleontology ever,” says Tom Kaye, a paleontologist at the Burke Museum in Seattle, Washington, and a critic of the original T. rex study. If the finding holds up, agrees Matthew Collins, an archaeologist and protein mass spectrometry expert at the University of York in the United Kingdom, “that would transform the way we do paleontology,” turning it into a discipline like genetics and molecular biology, built on molecular data.
REVOLUTION IN PALEONTOLOGY
Notice the ways in which Schweitzer’s colleagues characterize the impact of her discovery: it will revolutionize paleontology; it will transform paleontology.
Also notice the scientific community’s response. They classified her claims as contentious: controversial, likely to cause an argument — potentially a heated one. If science is dedicated to finding the truth, why is this idea of finding unfossilized blood vessels inside dinosaur bones one that is capable of causing heated arguments?
In her papers, Dr. Schweitzer compared the tissues found in the dinosaur bones to “extent” ostrich bones. She drew a hypothetical connection: ostriches descended from dinosaurs. This is in line with the evolutionary science community’s theory that birds evolved from dinosaurs. By doing so, her research — as outside-the-box and contentious as it may be — falls within the orthodoxy of modern science.
But all parties involved have remained conspicuously silent about one key parameter in hypothesis: time.
By comparing the dinosaur bone tissue (osteocytes) to a modern ostrich’s tissue, Dr. Schweitzer drew a link that the scientific community finds palatable. What wasn’t discussed was the timing: a 65 million year old dinosaur compared to a modern ostrich. The two are supposedly separated by millions of years, and yet their bones tissues remain remarkably similar to one another.
In 2011, a group of scientists published a paper in the Proceedings of The Royal Society that utilized similar methods to extract soft tissue from “50 million year old” dinosaur skin. They found that “maps and spectra from the fossil are directly comparable to extant reptile skin.” They proposed that some minerals or metals in the skin interact with their surroundings to exceptionally preserve some of these soft tissues.
The unspoken problem is this: in both cases of this dinosaur and Dr. Schweitzer’s, we have tissue samples that are supposedly millions of years old but which look identical to that of modern (“extant”) creatures.
Has there been no evolution?
Dr. Mary Schweitzer and her team discovered dinosaur bones with blood cells and tissue intact. These weren’t copies of blood cells, or imprints, or otherwise derivative replicas created during the fossilization process. These were the actual soft tissues, similar to what you would find left inside the bones of a modern deceased animal.
This discovery drew much media attention and controversy within the scientific community. The presupposition of modern science is that dinosaurs are upwards of 65 million years old; there is no way delicate, organic tissues such as proteins and red blood cells can remain intact for so long.
Despite criticism and scrutiny, the findings have held up and been reproduced by other scientists. Now the search is on to determine how these tissues can be preserved for so long inside such old bones.
This discovery is not a stumbling block to Christians who understand the age of the world to be approximately 6,000 years old (though the discovery has even surprised Christian scientists), but to those whose presuppositions preclude the truth revealed in Scripture, the evidence is a game-changing paradigm shift. As Paul wrote:
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. (Ephesians 4:17-18)
The next article will look in depth at Dr. Schweitzer’s history. The details of her story are interesting, and they begin much earlier than 2005.
1. M. H. Schweitzer, et al., “Analyses of Soft Tissue from Tyrannosaurus Rex Suggest the Presence of Protein,” Science 316:277–280.
2. M. H. Schweitzer, et al., “Soft-Tissue Vessels and Cellular Preservation in Tyrannosaurus Rex,” Science 307:1952–1955. ()
4. M. H. Schweitzer, et al., “Analyses of Soft Tissue,” p.278.
5. M. H. Schweitzer, et al., “Biomolecular Characterization and Protein Sequences of the Campanian Hadrosaur B. Canadensis,” Science 324:626–631.
6. Ibid., p.630.