Dinosaur-bird a hoax

The 'missing link' is actually two animals put together

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

The National Geographic magazine suddenly finds itself in an embarrassing situation with the discovery that the "missing-link" dinosaur-bird featured by it in November is a fake.

The fossil is two animals put together either mistakenly by its discoverers in China or as an artful forgery. Archaeoraptor, on display at the National Geographic Society in Washington until recently, has a birdlike upper torso and the tail and feet of a small raptor. The magazine said it was a "true missing-link that connects dinosaurs and birds."

The specimen, smuggled from China into the US, was found at a gem show last year in Tucson by Stephen Czerkas, owner of the Dinosaur Museum in Monticello, Utah. He purchased it for us $80,000 and made a deal with National Geographic to study, publicise it and ultimately return it to China.

"Assuming that all the evidence is in and it is a composite, not since I've been editor has anything happened like this," National Geographic editor Bill Allen told usa Today . "At any time prior to publication, if we had been informed of any problem at all, we would have yanked (the article)." The composite nature of the fossil was not detected by the magazine's team of scientists, and a scientific paper that was submitted to both Science and Nature was never published. As a result, Geographic was on its own with no independent review of the fossil.

Allen says he was notified in December by a Chinese doctoral student and member of the Geographic team that the fossil was not authentic. The society modified text on the public display to say questions had been raised about the fossil's origins.

National Geographic will publish a correction in its March issue.

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