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Feathered dinosaur

Dear All,
The following is a report appended from The Times (London -of course!)
Thursday 11/Oct/1996.
I have been in contact with Dr. Philip Currie who has examined the specimen
and there are inaccuracies in the newspaper report which he pointed out to
me (they follow the report).

China says fossil 'is oldest bird found' 
By Nigel Hawkes 
Science Editor 

A FOSSIL more than 200 million years old may be the earliest ancestor of
modern birds, Chinese scientists claim. 

The fossil was found in Liaoning Province by a fossil-hunter, Li Yumin. He
took it to the Geology Museum in Peking, believing it to be a dragon. Ji
Qiang, director of the museum, determined that the fossil was that of a
bird, and the oldest ever found. 

The claim was published yesterday in the China Daily, but could not be
confirmed by Western experts. Dr Angela Milner of the Natural History
Museum in London said that in the absence of a proper scientific
description she was unable to offer an opinion. 

The Chinese have given the fossil the name _Sinosauropteryx prima_. In
appearance it is closer to a land-based dinosaur, but it has a number of
characteristics that prove the evolutionary link with birds, Mr Ji said. 

"The forelegs show a definite tendency to developing towards wings," he
said. The key factor, however, was the discovery of feathery imprints in
the fossil. 

The specimen is not 200 million years old but is lower Cretaceous
(approximately 135 ma and is well constrained from radiometric dating of
associated tuffs).  It comes from the same locality as the
Confuciusornis/Sinornis specimens - namely a lacustrine Lagerstatte deposit
that does preserve soft tissues very well.
The specimen is NOT a bird but almost certainly a compsognathid dinosaur
(however you are free to argue the cladistic points of this statement as
one of the key synapomorphies of birds is the prescence of feathers).
The feathers are relatively short, preserved mostly along the neck and back
with very short ones (which actually look more like scales near the vent)
along the top and the bottom of the tail. 

I don't have any other information at the moment but you can be sure it
will be a hot topic at next weeks SVP meeting



Dr. Paul G. Davis
Division of Vertebrate Palaeontology, National Science Museum, 3-23-1
Hyakunin-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 169, Japan.
e-mail davis@kahaku.go.jp
Tel + 81 3 3364 2311
Fax. + 81 3 3364 7104