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A new primitive bird found from north China

May 14, 2008     Email"> PrintText Size


Eoconfuciusornis zhengi, skeleton and feather impression in counterslab and mainslab. (Credit: Zhou Zhonghe)


    Teaming up with their British co-worker, CAS paleornithologists have recently brought to light a new fossil bird from north China.

    In a paper published by a recent issue of Science in China, the discovery was made by ZHANG Fucheng and ZHOU Zhonghe from the CAS Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology and Michael J Benton from the University of Bristol.

    Unearthed from the Early Cretaceous Dabeigou Formation in Fengning in Hebei Province, the new finding is believed to be the oldest yet member of confuciusornis, the earliest known bird genus with a modern, toothless beak, pushing the history of the genus back by about 11 million years from 120 million years to 131 million years ago, and making the surviving period of genus the longest one among known early Cretaceous avian lineages.

    According to experts, the discovery enriches the understanding of the early systematic evolution of primitive birds and adds valuable dimensions to the knowledge about the origin of the avian flight and its early evolution as well.

    The new bird is named Eoconfuciusornis zhengi after distinguished Chinese ornithologist Prof. Zheng Guangmei. Other important fossil birds co-existing with Eoconfuciusornis zhengi included Protopteryx fengningensis, the most primitive "opposite birds" that was discovered by ZHANG Fucheng and ZHOU Zhonghe in 2000.

    "China never ceases to amaze, with remarkable new fossils being found again and again. The Eoconfuciusornis fossil is hugely important in plugging a major gap in our knowledge of bird evolution immediately after Archaeopteryx,"Prof. Michael J Benton was quoted as saying.

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