The Smithsonian Channel has just posted a glimpse of the cornucopia of prehistoric bird fossils embedded in the lush Liaoning Province of China. And the sight is jaw-dropping. Liaoning, which is a day’s drive from Beijing, is home to countless well-preserved feathered dinosaur fossils. And they show how many strange fits and starts life went through as it transformed from dinosaur into bird.
In the video, Jingmai O’Connor, a professor at the Beijing Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, offers an overview of Liaoning’s bird fossils. The professor notes that there’s a massive array of prehistoric avian species at the site. Their fossils are so well-intact, they sometimes even still have some soft tissues.
“[W]hat we’ve learned from this huge diversity of fossils is that these features we associate with modern birds actually evolved multiple times,” O’Connor notes in the video. “There’s a common perception that evolution proceeds in a very linear fashion,” says Hans Dieter Sues off the Natural Museum of History. “But actually, the many bird features were gradually acquired [and] there were a lot of dead-ends.”
The dead-ends from 130 million years ago, however, are still fascinating. For a (relatively) brief time, for example, there was