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>Report shows new dinosaur-bird link
By Mark Weinraub
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The theory that birds are descended from
dinosaurs gained more credence Tuesday when paleontologists
the discovery of fossils of two species with both distinctive
and dinosaur features.
The fossils, unearthed in the Liaoning province of China, date back
more than 120 million years and conclusively prove the hotly
theory that dinosaurs are the direct ancestors of birds, said
Currie, curator of dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of
Palaeontology in Canada.
``Dinosaurs have become almost synonymous with the word controversy
science,'' Currie told a news conference. ``One of the
I think, is finally resolved.''
A team of scientists worked to identify the fossils as two separate
species and their findings were published in National Geographic
magazine and the journal Nature.
Scientists in the dinosaur-bird camp had been looking for a
feature such as the feathers to corroborate the relationship
the two, said Ji Qiang, director of the National Geological Museum
Beijing, who worked on the fossils.
``They represent a missing link between dinosaurs and birds which
had expected to find,'' he told the news conference.
It is hard to find the telltale signs that dinosaurs had bird-like
traits such as hollow bones and feathers because they are often
destroyed in the fossilized record, said National Geographic
editor Bill Allen.
``These fossils are things we predicted would be there but
in my lifetime I never thought we were going to find them,'' said
Norell, chairman and associate curator in the department of
paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York,
who also worked on the fossils.
The two species, named Caudipteryx zoui (tail feather) and
Protoarchaeopteryx robusta, were both fast runners that were
unable to fly, judging by their short arms and long legs. The
may have been for insulation or display, Currie said.
Protoarchaeopteryx was about the size of a modern day turkey, and
have looked like the forebears of Archaeopteryx, the earliest known
bird. Most of its body was probably covered with feathers.
Caudipteryx was about three feet tall, the scientists said. It,
probably had feathers all over its body although the fossils
distinctively show feathers only on its tail and hands.
Both animals closely resemble meat-eating dinosaurs called
The fossils show that birds use their dinosaur features for
that they were never originally intended for, such as flight, said
Kevin Padian, curator of the University of California Museum of
``These things cannot be considered for birds or for flight.''
said in a telephone interview. ``They evolved in little carnivorous
dinosaurs. These birds co-opted these features. They made them do
The feathers open a door into many more controversies about
Currie said. The next question will be to identify exactly what
purpose the feathers served but this may be hard because important
determinants such as color have been lost in the fossil record,
Finding the purpose of the feathers may lead to determining if
dinosaurs were warm blooded or cold blooded and the ''uncoupling''
feathers from flight provides new avenues to explore the origins of
flight, Currie said.
(23 Jun 1998 22:28 EDT)
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