Science & Nature

“Amazing” New Fossil Birds – From the Time of Dinosaurs – Discovered Near China’s Great Wall

“Amazing” New Fossil Birds – From the Time of Dinosaurs – Discovered Near China’s Great Wall thumbnail

Newly Discovered Fossil Birds

An illustration showing the newly discovered fossil birds (Meemannavis the larger one on the left in the center foreground, and Brevidentavis open-mouthed on the right). Credit: Illustration by Cindy Joli, Julio Francisco Garza Lorenzo, and René Dávila Rodríguez

Approximately 80 miles from the westernmost reach of China’s Great Wall, paleontologists found relics of an even more ancient world. Over the last two decades, teams of researchers unearthed more than 100 specimens of fossil birds that lived approximately 120 million years ago, during the time of the dinosaurs. However, many of these fossils have proved difficult to identify: they’re incomplete and sometimes badly crushed. In a new paper published in the Journal of Systematics and Evolution, researchers examined six of these fossils and identified two new species. And as a fun side note, one of those new species had a movable bony appendage at the tip of its lower jaw that may have helped the bird root for food.

“It was a long, painstaking process teasing out what these things were,” says Jingmai O’Connor, the study’s lead author and the associate curator of vertebrate paleontology at Chicago’s Field Museum. “But these new specimens include two new species that increase our knowledge of

Fossil Bird Fieldwork

O’Connor conducting fieldwork at the site where the fossil birds were found. Credit: Photo by You Hailu

All birds are dinosaurs, but not all dinosaurs are birds; a small group of dinosaurs evolved into birds that coexisted with other dinosaurs for 90 million years. Modern birds are the descendants of the group of birds that survived the extinction that killed the rest of the dinosaurs, but many prehistoric birds went extinct then too. O’Connor’s work focuses on studying different groups of early birds to figure out why some survived while others went extinct.

The fossil site in northwestern China, called Changma, is an important place for researchers like O’Connor studying bird evolution. It’s the second-richest DOI: 10.1111/jse.12823

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