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May 8, 2015

Birds as we know them now go back 130 million years

Illustration by Zongda Zhang
Oldest known relative to modern birds found in China
A lump of ancient rock in north-eastern China has been broken open and the fossilized remains of a prehistoric bird have been revealed to be the oldest known ancestor of all modern birds.   The fossil was found complete with perfectly preserved plumage, in silt rock that was formed 130 million years ago.   The new bird has been named Archaeornithura meemannae.   The specimen's age pushes back the evolutionary origin that led to living birds by 5 to 6 million years.   The new bird was the size of a sparrow and feathers covered most of its body, but its legs and feet were bare, suggesting a semi-aquatic environment where is probably waded and foraged.   Min Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences says the bird has many features of modern birds but also has some major differences, such as the claws on its hands.   Details of the discovery were revealed earlier this week in the journal Nature Communications.   
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