Friday, Jul. 19, 2002

From the Quarry

Fossilized "proto-birds" captured in sediment laid down at the bottom of an ancient lake were first uncovered by local farmers in Liaoning Province, China, in 1995. Dubbed Confuciusornis by scientists, they lacked the long bony tails and toothed jaws familiar in other theropod dinosaurs like Velociraptor and Tyrannosaurus rex. What they did have were "wings", even though sporting distinct fingers ending in claws. A year later, this quarry in Liaoning yielded a new small theropod dinosaur, a voracious, bipedal hunter, later named Sinosauropteryx. In 1997, remains of two other dino-birds, Caudipteryx and the Protarcheopteryx, were uncovered, but the best was yet to come. When the "Fuzzy Raptor" was discovered in 2000 its perfectly preserved downy body feathers conclusively resolved the long-standing mystery of the evolutionary link between dinosaurs and birds.