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SAPE meeting in Beijing

Hi folks,
        Just returned from 2 weeks in China, mostly for the Soc. Avian
Paleo & Evol meeting (and museum research). I can't possibly hope to do
justice to many of the amazing things I saw there, but will hit the
dino-related highlights in this short e-mail.
        On the 4 day field trip we hit many of the productive sites in
Liaoning, including Sihetun where we watched a Confuciusornis discovered
and unearthed in a total of 90 minutes. We also visited a few museums,
such as the Wenya museum where we saw many Psittacosaurus and
Confuciusornis, plus 2 interesting new filamentous theropods: one had
Confuciusornis feet on it and the other had 3 tibiae, so watch out for the
son and grandson of Archaeoraptor (I later saw one of them in Beijing so
who knows, they could make their way to the West...)! Both contained
small dromaeosaurid material (mostly) so are of much interest once their
chimaeric status can be cleared up.  Anyway, we also stopped by the huge
Beipiao paleo museum, a huge monolith in the middle of nowhere, soon to be
surrounded by a reservoir.  All funded by willing donations from the
generous skillful workers of the province...
        Back at the meeting in Beijing we heard the usual old stories from
Feduccia and company, and plenty of Cenozoic ornithology types proudly
displayed their "birds are not dinosaurs" buttons.  More interestingly,
there were talks by Zhou Zhonghe on the new Caudipteryx material (now up
to 7 specimens, some in preparation/submitted), Xu Xing on Sinornithosauru
(hinted at non-monophyly of dromaeosaurs, described newly realized
features), Rick Prum on feather evolution (great talk showing how
filaments from non-birds perfectly fit predictions of the morphology of
protofeathers), and much more. Plenty of new enantiornithines, cool
salamanders and choristoderes, etc. etc. At the National Geol Museum we
caught a glimpse of a stunning new filamentous animal that may be
a complete Sinornithosaurus or similar taxon.
        Some conclusions from the meeting included feather experts
emphatically denying the possibility that the filamentous integumentary
structures could be collagenous or subdermal. By the end of the meeting,
the vocal minority of Feducciaries had backpedalled to saying that the
fibers were hairs, not feathers.  This hypothesis can be
falsified by demonstrating that the fibers are hollow (as Schweitzer has
shown for Shuvuuia), branching (as others at the meeting observed from the
specimens), or B-keratin, not to mention that only mammals have true
hair. Another issue was that feathers cannot be considered homologous
to scales (e.g. as derived elongate scales), because of many differences
in development, topology, anatomy, and genetic control.
        Everyone agreed that more work is needed to describe and
characterize the protofeathers, except one chap who said that no
microscopy or other work was needed, the fibers were hairs and that's
that. I guess that is because he thinks that no dinosaur could have
feathers, ergo there could not be a feathered dinosaur, therefore any
feather-like structures on a dinosaur can be dismissed a priori as
uninteresting. Similar convolutions of logic were commonplace at the
meeting, but overall it was a good time and well worth the visit. The
hosts were incredibly kind and generally well organized, and the food was
often awesome (except the congealed slabs of ducks blood, which were a bit
odd; scorpions I missed out on).
        If you are planning a visit to the IVPP or NGMC collections, make
sure to contact them well in advance with a list of which specimen numbers
you want to see.  Many of the Sino-Canadian expedition fossils are boxed
up and generally unavailable, and many other important specimens are
hidden away in someone's office or on display in some tiny village
museum. Plan ahead.
        Keep your eyes peeled for many, many new discoveries from China
this year.  The Liaoning area has barely begun to reveal its cache of
secrets and the journals will be hard pressed to keep up with the flow of
new papers on the rapidly emerging discoveries from China.

        --John R. Hutchinson