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Feathers fly in the case of the dawn bird dinosaur

aurornisIt is reported to be 160 million years old, with the impressions of its feathers in the shale slab that contains its fossilized skeleton.  The scientists have called it Aurornis, or dawn bird.  Its significance is that it gives us insight into the stages by which birds emerged from the dinosaur lineage.  It restores the most famous feathered fossil, archaeopteryx, to its status as an ancestor of modern birds.  The primitive features of the Aurornis put it right at the point where avialans began, about 10m years earlier than archaeopteryx, which could certainly fly.

The find is not without controversy, though.  It was found in Liaoning province, and handed in by farmers.  Some fossils have in the past been found to have been ‘enhanced’ or faked, so the question of authenticity has been raised.  Experts who have examined it rate the likelihood of fraud as very low, so it does seem to be a major discovery, adding to the roughly 30 species of feathered dinosaurs mostly discovered in the same region.  But this one is the oldest yet, and gives us vital clues as to how and when birds first developed.  And inside some modern birds might be part of the DNA of the dinosaurs in their distant past.

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