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More on Confuciusornis
There were a lot of questions arising from my last posting and being lazy I
will reply on bulk (sorry Mickey I do know it is a dino list).
With regards to Photos of the specimens. I had a kind offer from Dino Russ
to put these photos on the web and as my finances are limited I see this
as a good option. I will send out the photos and hopefully we will see
them appear shortly so that everyone can enjoy them.
The political situation of these specimens is confused to say the least.
The Chinese have no law regarding the sale of fossils however they added a
clause to an antiquities law to include dino eggs as I am sure you all
know. This law as such doesn't include these birds as yet but they are
tightening up this loophole. The upshot of this is an illegal exported
specimen is one clasified as having no official documentation. Of course
all the specimens exported before this clause do not have this
documentation even though they went through before the law was passed. Ie
any specimen is illegal (pretty neat bit of wrangling eh!). The chinese
then have the political and legal power to reclaim these specimens (as set
by the precedent of the Australian Ediacaran fossils). As politicians all
over the world are on the whole spineless with regards to standing up to
the chinese gov. and they regard fossils as unimportant in the grand scheme
of politics they will give way to whatever the chinese gov demands.
Therefore any musuem speciemns come in for a particularly hard time
(private individual specimens would be impossible to track down in the same
way). So musuems are very quiet about the specimens they have (and I know
of a few that do own some of these fossils) as they dont want to have them
reclaimed (not surprising as they cost from 3000 to 20000 USdollars). The
palaeornith. community (at the SAPE conf. in Washington in July) signed a
petition to the Chinese gov to stop the excavation of the site (it has been
almost complete wrecked by commercial collecting). If people want to voice
their own opinions on stopping this trade then you should send a letter to
the IVPP in Beijing.
What follows is brief info on the science of these spectacular avian fossils.
The Jiufotang Formation (nr Boluochi, Liaoning Prov. NE China - age approx
135-139 Ma) contains the following fauna:
Confuciousornis sanctus Hou et al 1995a and Hou et al 1995b
The most numerous bird with approximately 35 specimens known.
The holotype and paratype specimens are incomplete (the only specimens
that are). Feathers are preserved in all the recovered specimens are are
'carbonized traces' (sensu stricto Davis and Briggs, 1995).
The specimens are approx 30 cm long (beak to pygostyle)
The skull is well known (Hou 1995 and Zhou 1995) and is edentulous.
Pectoral girdle is well developed - truly avian furcula, coracoid and
scapula and indicates true volant flight (as is also shown by the
arrangement of the wing flight feathers). The sternum is poorly ossified
and is small and of a very simple structure. The humerus has an expanded
humeral head region unlike an other known bird and has a characteristic
oval fenestrae which passes completely through the humerus. The wrist and
metacarpals show an intermediate position between that of Archaeo (totally
unfused) and modern Neornithes (fused). The manus still retains three
digits although digit reduction is occurring - almost approaching a
neornithine arrangement and it appears to have a alula.
The sacrum remains very reptilian in appearance except the ischium has
rotated towars the illium and is expanded posteriorly. It appears to be an
intermediate stage in the development of the Neornithine condition.
A tail is absent (contra Hou et al 1995b) and has been replaced by the
fusion of caudal vert into a pygostyle.
The hind limb is avian in nature and the tarsometatarsus seems to show some
enantiornithine synapomorphies. The pes has three digits and appears well
adapted for perching.
Hou et al 1995a Chinese Science Bulletin 10 61-63
Hou et al 1995b Nature 377 (19/10/95) 616-618
Hou 1995 6th Meso. Symp. Terr. Eco syst. Short papers 193-201
Zhou 1995 6th Meso. Symp. Terr. Eco syst. Short papers 209-214
Other finds - all one specimen unless stated otherwise
Cathayornis yandica Zhou et al 1992
Zhou et al 1992 Chinese Science Bulletin 37 1365-1368
Boluochia zhengi Zhou 1995
Zhou 1995 Vertebrata PalAsiatica 33 99-113
Chaoyangia beishanensis Hou and Zhang 1993
Hou and Zhang 1993 Vertebrata PalAsiatica 31 217-224
Sinornis santensis Sereno and Rao 1992
Sereno and Rao 1992 Science 255 (14/2/92) 845-848
I have also noticed the following
2 undescribed enantiornithines and one unknown taxa (2 specimens) which is
approx 15cm long and has 2 very long and thin tail feathers (rather like a
bird of paradise tail). I am currently describing one of these
enantiornithines but the present whereabouts of the other specimens is
That's all the info I am giving out for the moment
Dr. Paul G. Davis
Division of Vertebrate Palaeontology, National Science Museum, 3-23-1
Hyakunin-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 169, Japan.
Tel + 81 3 3364 2311
Fax. + 81 3 3364 7104