A fossil dinosaur was unearthed which was
wrapped from head to tail in feathers. It would add to the
debate about birds being descended from dinosaurs, and suggested
that the evolution of feathers predated the development of
The 130 million-year-old Dromaeosaur
specimen provided the best evidence yet that some dinosaurs
developed primitive feathers - not for flight but probably to
keep warm. The creature was a small predator which was closely
related to the Velociraptor (star of the first Jurassic
Like Velociraptor, they had a sickle-like
claw on the middle toe, sharp teeth, and a bone structure similar
to that of modern birds.
The fossil was unearthed in spring 2000 by farmers
digging in north-eastern China's Liaoning province. It was entombed
in two slabs of fine-grained rock.
When the slabs were separated the farmers saw a
fossil which resembled a large duck with a long tail and an
oversized head. The fine-grained rock allowed minute details to
be preserved which showed that the creature's head and tail were
covered with downy fibres, while other parts of the body seemed
to have tufts or sprays of filaments resembling primitive feathers.
The arms also seemed to be adorned with branched structures which
were similar to the barbs of modern bird feathers.
Dr Mark Norell of the American Museum of Natural
History, New York, stated that the fossil radically modified the way
scientists would see these extinct animals. It showed that advanced
theropod (two-legged) dinosaurs may have looked more like weird birds
than giant lizards.
Several new species of dinosaur with feather-like
structures were found in the Liaoning fossil beds since the
first, Sinosauropteryx, was discovered in 1995. In most
cases, the fossils were incomplete, making it unclear how the
feather-like structures related to the animal's body. Most experts
of the time believed that modern birds had evolved from dinosaurs
(a theory which itself would be subject to later development), and
they were citing the Liaoning fossils as evidence.
However, critics of the theory were arguing that the
feather-like structures were not the remains of primitive feathers,
or that the specimens were instead mixed-up fossils of early birds and