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Along with John Ostom, Larry Martin and Peter Wollnhofer I spend almost 3
weeks in China. Our trip was sponsered by The Philadelphia Academy of Natural
Science and we had invitations from the various institutions and the CAS.
We were given unlimited access to all the specimen and some that we did not
anticipate.Part of the agenda was to also visit the sites in Liaoning, and
encourage further studies on the great variety of material that the site has
produced. The material we saw and that coming from this site is nothing short
As you are probably aware there are actually 3 specimens of Sinosauropteryx
and the slab and counterslab of the 1st (smaller) specimen are in separate
institutions. Both Beijing (Geological Museum) and Nanjing (Institute of
Geology and Paleontology) have aquired additional (larger) specimens.
We saw all these.
I will simply list what are probably our major findings. There will be
a press conference at the Academy on Thursday, 24 April. I assume additional
questions will be answered and further details will be addressed. At this stage
we do not plan to produce a lengthy report, but that can change. We may
be joined in Philadelphia by at least one of the Chinese scientists.
1. In our opinion the structures on Sinosauropteryx are not feathers in
the sense of any modern feather morphology. The might represent some sort
of protofeather, but homology can only be established by internal and
perhaps molecular evidence. Microscopic work, both SEM and perhaps TEM
of thin sections would help.
They may be an epidermal structure that supported a crest or some
other structure. In this case, they would be derived from alpha-kertain
and not a feather homologue.
They might be dermal in orgin, and not extend above the surface. They
could have been involved in maintain body shape. If they are dermal it is
likely that they were collagen and, again, not a feather homologue.
2. The skeleton is certainly dinosaurian. We felt it was very close to
Compsognathus and was so named by the Nanjing group. If that observation
stands, we hope the two institutions can work together to reconsile the
problems. All specimens need further prep work and lots more study.
3. The site in Liaoning Provence is mind-blowing (not an accurate
scientific term, but you get the point). There are many insect, fish and
plant fossils, in abundance. There are, in some spots, literaly dozens of
Confucusornis fossils. Many of these have been collected and prepared by
investigators at the Institue of Paleoontology and Paleoanthropology (Bejing).
There are many isolated feather fossil. The Chinese claim the site is late
Jurassic (Mesozic), but there are no widely accepted,accurate dates available.
If it is Mesozic, one thrill for me was have more Msozic feather fossils in
my hand, picked up rather causally in the field, then exist in most U.S.
museums; combined! In any case, the locality is an absolute treasure and
must treated as such.
4. We saw other specimens such as the newly found and described (in
Protarchaeopteryx. Details will just have to wait for a another posting.
It is our understanding that papers describing both Sinosauropteryx
and Protarchaeopteryx have been submitted to western journals. In order
not to compromise these efforts I will say little more at this point about
the specimens. But, if you want to hear about Chinese food, impressions of
the country, its changes (I was there in 1977), and what these places look
like today, let me know.
Alan H. Brush 92 High St., Mystic, CT Brush@uconnvm.uconn.edu