London: Chinese scientists have said that the discovery of five remarkable new fossils of feathered dinosaurs in rock formations in northeastern China, has confirmed that birds evolved from dinosaurs.
According to a report in the Guardian, the fossils are older than previous discoveries of similar creatures.
The fossils all have feathers or feather-like structures. The clearest and most striking of the specimens can be seen to have four wings, extensive plumage and profusely feathered feet.
“These exceptional fossils provide us with evidence that has been missing until now,” said Xu Xing, one of the scientists who made the discovery. “Now it all fits neatly into place and we have tied up some of the loose ends,” he added.
The new finds date back to between 151 and 164 million years ago, which suggest they are older than Archaeopteryx, previously thought to be the oldest undisputed bird.
“The fossils provide confirmation that the bird-dinosaur hypothesis is correct, and supports the idea that birds descended from theropod dinosaurs (the group of predatory dinosaurs that includes allosaurus and velociraptor),” said Xing.
The fossils were found in the province of Liaoning.
Xing told the Guardian he was shocked when he first saw the best of the specimens.
“This was really unexpected. One thing that would shock you is that this is covered with feathers everywhere except the beak and the claw. It is the first feathered species known so far; the earliest known feathered species,” he said.
According to Xing, “The first question we wanted to know is: is it fake or real? We checked in detail and convinced ourselves there was no problem. We are 100 percent sure we are looking at a real species, not a fake one. It’s one of the most important for understanding the origin of birds.”
Long feathers cover the arms and tail, but also the feet, suggesting that a four-winged stage may have existed in the transition to birds.
The fossils will also help scientists work out the mechanics of how early birds flew.
The specimens have been identified as types of Anchiornis huxleyi. This was previously thought to be a primitive bird, but according to the scientists, closer inspection of these new finds reveals that it should be assigned to the Troodontidae — a group of dinosaurs closely related to birds.