100m-year-old dinosaur bird wings found fossilised in amber

29 Jun 2016

Archaeologists are heralding the incredible discovery of 100m-year-old well-preserved bird wings that originated from the dinosaur era, and show a remarkable likeness to modern descendants.

This discovery of the mummified dinosaur bird wings in the Asian state of Myanmar is unlike anything that has been discovered before and could give us the greatest glimpse to-date of a world before humans roamed the Earth.

In total, two wings were discovered encased within the fossilised tree sap, known to many as amber, weighing just 1.6g and 8.5g. The find contained much of the original bird wings, including not only their bone structure, but also their feathers and tissue.

Future Human

Best samples found so far

Until now, our understanding of feathered creatures from the Cretaceous period has been limited to just imprints of feathers that have been fossilised, which, aside from showing their shape, reveals little about the birds’ colour or other details.

Similarly, previous discoveries of individual feathers tend to pose more questions than answers as their origin cannot be determined.

According to National Geographic, the discovery was made by a team from the China University of Geosciences led by Lida Xing, who has now co-authored a study published in Nature Communications.

Dinosaur birds

Photos of the samples of the two wings found in the amber. Image via Xing L et al

‘Mind-blowingly cool’

Using an X-ray micro-CT scanner, the team analysed the 100m-year-old wing samples, which appeared to show that they were juvenile birds due to their bone development, while also suggesting they belonged to the same species.

Interestingly, despite being 100m years apart, the arrangement of the skin, muscle, claws and feather structure shares a striking resemblance to species of bird found on Earth today.

As for what colour the feathers are, despite their appearance of being black at first glance, further microscopic analysis reveals that it’s actually a dark brown colour, with less visible feathers also showing silver or white bands.

While the discovery is being called “mind-blowingly cool” by Xing’s co-author Ryan McKellar, there are concerns that the amber specimens may have been the victim of Myanmar’s amber trade for jewellery, where fossilised remains are considered impure samples by locals.

After analysing the samples, there is a suggestion that it may have been chipped off a larger amber piece that could have included the entire bird specimen, which would have been a breakthrough for science like no other.

Amber image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic