A piece of amber found in Myanmar, originally destined to become a piece of jewelry, contains the most well-preserved dinosaur-era bird fossil ever found.
The amber didn’t contain an entire bird—only part of the skull, the spine, a wing, a foot, and a pelvis—the rest had been cut off by a local miner cutting and polishing the piece of amber so it would look better to buyers. Furthermore, something had squashed and distorted the animal before tree resin encased it. However, as tree resin has such incredible preservative properties, those body parts contained much more information than simple fossilized bones would have.
Like the ancient mosquitos in the Jurassic Park franchise, animals that get trapped in tree resin can be preserved in a near-perfect fashion for millions of years. Major amber deposits in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) have been discovered that are filled with these fossils, which people collect and polish for sale.
The yellowish brown shininess of amber makes it ideal to fashion into earth-inspired jewelry. However, some of this amber also contains ancient animals and plants that contain vital information about the history of life. It’s up to paleontologists to obtain these pieces before they’re cut up and made into pendants and rings.
Luckily, paleontologists bought this bird specimen and examined it. By using Micro-CT scanning and 3D Reconstruction, the researchers were able to see inside the specimen and document its shape and internal organs. From the outside, it’s not easy to see the specimen very clearly — debris and insects were caught in the amber as well, clouding the bird from view.
The specimen helps illustrate the evolution of birds in the Cretaceous, 99 million years ago. This individual, thought to be of the genus Enantiornithes, already had complete flight feathers, despite being a hatchling, National Geographic reports.
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