Sunday, February 19, 2012

In the 150 years since its discovery in Germany, Archaeopteryx has perched high on the avian family tree as the earliest and most primitive bird, somewhere near the evolutionary moment when some dinosaurs gave rise to birds. But recent fossil finds cast doubt on this interpretation: Archaeopteryx may be only a birdlike dinosaur rather than a dinosaur like true bird. Chinese paleontologists reported in the current issue of the journal Nature that a previously unknown chicken-size 155-million-year-old dinosaur with feathers, named Xiaotingia zhengi, “challenges the centrality of Archaeopteryx in the transition to birds.”
Like so many fossil dinosaurs and other life from the late Jurassic period, Xiaotingia was found in Liaoning Province, a happy hunting ground for paleontologists. The skeleton was embedded in shale, along with the clear impressions of feathers. Scientists who studied the specimen said it was not as striking in appearance as several of the 10 known Archaeopteryx remains, but good enough apparently to contradict conventional wisdom about proto-birds.

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