Laser technique sheds light on dinosaur fossils

Mandy Carr
March 3, 2017

The process involved a new technique called laser-stimulated fluorescence (LSF).

The lasers were shone onto bones - and scientists analysed which wavelengths bounced back, allowing them to build up a picture of the tissue that once surrounded them. The species was discovered in 2009, but many details about the dinosaur remain a mystery, including one lingering question asked by scientists: did the creature walk or fly? Some think it should be a bird due to its avian-like features, while others believe it does not have enough qualities to be put in that group.

The study revealed minute but important structural similarities between basal paravians and the birds that populate the Earth today, researchers said.

The laser testing revealed that Anchiornis had legs shaped like drumsticks, a long and slender tail, and its arms resembled the wings of some modern birds which glide or soar.

At a news conference, University of Hong Kong Dr. Michael Pittman said he and his team worked on fossils of the chicken-sized, feathered, bird-like dinosaur Anchiornis that lived in China about 160 million years ago. Also, this feathered dinosaur lived close to the period when birds evolutionarily diverted from their dinosaur ancestors. "This revealed the first quantitative high-detail outline of a feathered dinosaur". The skeletons scientists dig up from the ground are seldom complete, and soft tissues like organs, muscle, or skin nearly never survive into the present.

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This discovery suggests that Anchiornis may have been capable of flying, but the researchers cannot definitively conclude that was the case as some other birds equipped with patagium are completely flightless.

Anchiornis didn't necessarily fly, of course.

"What our work does underscore", Pittman told National Geographic, "is the broad extent to which bird-like dinosaurs were experimenting with their anatomy and functional capabilities before we had the first unequivocal gliding and flying birds".

In modern birds, this is called the propatagium - the boneless leading edge of the wing, covered in feathers, and crucial for flight. However, it lacked the breastbone and short tails typical of modern birds. It had small, sharp teeth like those of the earliest birds, and may have eaten small animals like lizards.

Other reports by Guamnewswatch

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