Old Ink

Squid ink: not just for writing withThe ink used by Cephalopods as an escape mechanism has been unchanged for millions of years. How do we know this? Because ink preserved for all that time has been analysed and found to be “essentially identical” to that of the modern Sepia officinalis (European common) cuttlefish.

Curiously, Thomas – in Fresh Fossil Squid Ink 160 Million Years Old? – has little to say on the “no evolution” aspect. Instead, he largely regurgitates what he has said in previous years about how the ink could not have survived all that time and thus must be only thousands of years old – typical soft tissue preservation stuff.

This story differs from last weeks T. rex in that, as the discovery seems to be solid, we are only left with the ‘this doesn’t actually prove a young Earth. The chemical that has been preserved all this while is eumelanin. Thomas describes the situation like so:

Eumelanin—a biochemical with a complicated structure—is an abundant pigment that serves many purposes in animals and other organisms, including darkening a mammal’s skin and hair. It is also notoriously difficult to work with in the lab since it refuses to dissolve in common solvents. However, because all systems tend to become disordered over time, no knowledgeable chemist or physicist would expect eumelanin’s complicated structure to have persisted for 160 million years—the age assignment given to the rock formations containing the fossil ink sacs.

“A biochemical with a complicated structure”? Hardly the most complex, it must be said. It’s a polymer, you understand – and one that can have different components or be cut up and still ‘be eumelanin.’ What’s more relevant is its toughness – and eumelanin is one tough cookie. As the press release tells us:

Generally animal tissue, made up mostly of protein, degrades quickly. Over the course of millions of years all that is likely to be found from an animal is skeletal remains or an impression of the shape of the animal in surrounding rock. Scientists can learn much about an animal by its bones and impressions, but without organic matter they are left with many unanswered questions.

But melanin is an exception. Though organic, it is highly resilient to degradation over the course of vast amounts of time.

As I said last week, unlike with radioisotopes we don’t know for certain how long they should last. It is by no means unbelievable that this stuff would last 160 million years in rare cases.

I could stop there. But instead I’ll further demonstrate what I mean using this quote:

The original eumelanin chemistry was still largely intact, including many short-lived kinds of chemical bonds.

How short is ‘short’? Understand that even to a young Earth creationist like Thomas these ink sacs are still thousands of years old. If these supposedly “short-lived kinds of chemical bonds” can last that long, why not millions of years?

Note that the eumelanin was the only organic found:

“Though the other organic components of the cephalopod we studied are long gone, we’ve discovered through a variety of research methods that the melanin has remained in a condition that could be studied in exquisite detail,” said John Simon, one of the study authors.

Now this fossil – being Jurassic – would have to be mid-flood (or thereabouts). In the creationist chronology, immediately following the flood was a (rather inexplicable) ice age. Last year Thomas wrote about some different soft ’tissue’ – some plants that were “still green” and which would have to be placed in this ice age, only a few years after the Flood.

But why should only a handful of years be the difference between preserved chlorophyll and the hardy melanin? The Flood is frequently credited with all sorts of wonders of preservation, but it seems that it would need to have been detrimental for preserving organic material – just like it must have depleted all those radioisotopes etc. It makes no sense


The abstract to the paper can be read here. As for the unmentioned lack of evolution, what pressures would the Cephalopods be evolving against? Is there a predator that has developed X-ray eyes? I don’t think so. The chemical does the job – what is there to be adapted is what you do with it.

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5 thoughts on “Old Ink

  1. You’ve hit the nail on the head there with the “if melanin, why not chlorophyll”. It’s the same thing as the “soft tissues” in dinosaurs —– if these tissues were recent then why don’t all preserved dinosaurs have them? The very rareity of preserved biomolecules attests to this being a chance preservation rather then routinely lingering “young” substance.

  2. “However, because all systems tend to become disordered over time, no knowledgeable chemist or physicist would expect eumelanin’s complicated structure to have persisted for 160 million years.” The ICR would appear to know what all scientists thought before this paper appeared.
    With YECs they are very fond of claiming that because scientific explanations are ‘surprising’ or ‘complicated’, creationist alternatives must be right and true instead! Though – unlike perhaps a typical OEC – the ICR avoid the temptation to suggest that if melanin in the ink has not evolved over millions of years then perhaps there was no species evolution either.

    • “no knowledgeable chemist or physicist” indeed: Thomas is clearly neither. I’m still curious about why they omitted that part.

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