In 1993, a fossil of a long-tailed bird was found in China that still contained feathers and bones. The fossilized Confuciusornis sanctus is supposedly 120 million years old, but observation has shown that original organic materials such as bones and feathers break down in just thousands of years, even if bacteria aren’t present.

Analysis of the fossil’s specific metals has yielded some spectacular results, confirming that the bird couldn’t possibly have died millions of years ago. In a study appearing in Science, researchers used a new imaging technique to record the distribution of specific metal elements, like copper, across the surface of the fossil and compared that with modern feathers. Copper gives color to modern bird feathers and is held in place by carbon-rich organic molecules called melanins.

They found that the copper in extant feathers was in the same layout as the visible fossil feather outline and was highly concentrated right where they observed tiny barrel-shaped pigment-bearing structures called eumelanosomes.

To confirm that the copper was still integrated with the original organic melanin, the researchers used a scanning technique called XANES on three fossils, including C. sanctus. And indeed, the copper-melanin structures in the fossils resemble those of a living species of cuttlefish.1 In short, even after the more than 100 million years since the C. sanctus feathers and bones were supposedly buried, their molecular structures still match those of currently living creatures.

If this fossil is 120 million years old, its original copper and calcium should have, by virtue of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, leached out from the fossil into the surrounding rock layers.2 Instead, the scientists verified that almost no leaching has occurred….

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