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Archaeoraptor liaoningensis is a hoaxed fossil that linked dinosaurs to birds. It was allegedly found in China in the 1990s and was described in the November 1999 issue of National Geographic as “a true missing link in the complex chain that connects dinosaurs to birds.” The specimen is actually a composite of two dinosaur fossils.
According to Alex Boese,
Xu Xing, a Chinese scientist who had initially helped to identify the fossil, was the one who eventually blew the whistle on it. He announced that he had found a second fossil containing an exact, mirror-image duplicate of the Archaeoraptor's tail, but attached to a different body. Fossil stones, when taken from the ground, often cleave in two, producing two mirror-image sets of fossil slabs. Evidently someone had taken one of the slabs bearing the tail fossil and affixed it to a fossil of a bird, thereby producing a hybrid dinosaur-bird creature. (Museum of Hoaxes)
U.S. News & World Report dubbed Archaeoraptor "The Piltdown Chicken" and the name has stuck.
Despite claims by some creationists that a mistake or fraud by scientists somehow supports their belief that evolution never happened and that a god created all species separately, most paleontologists are convinced that birds emerged from dinosaurs. This belief is based on strong evidence unrelated to any Chinese fossils.*
The Archaeoraptor hoax is an example of how science works. When an error is made or fraud is committed, it is discovered and dealt with publicly. Science is self-correcting, unlike creationism. If this case was unusual it was due to the hoax being discovered almost immediately after the National Geographic article appeared. The Archaeoraptor fossil only had a few months of glory as the missing link between dinosaurs and birds before it was exposed as a composite. We now know that the head and body of a primitive bird and the tail and hind limbs of a dromaeosaur dinosaur were glued together by a Chinese farmer.*
CT scans have shown that the tail and hind limbs belong to a Microraptor zhaoianus, a small, bipedal, meat-eating dinosaur with some bird-like features and the avian parts are from a fish-eating bird known as Yanornis martini. "Prior to their appearance in the false Archaeoraptor fossil, both Microraptor and Yanornis were unknown species."* Both are considered important new finds. They were found in the Liaoning Province of China, "where thousands of flying and non-flying dinosaur fossils have been uncovered. The site has provided compelling evidence confirming the bird-dinosaur link."*
Dinorama - National Geographic