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Siberian Discovery Suggests Almost All Dinosaurs Were Feathered 139

Posted by Soulskill
from the tyrannosaurus-big-bird dept.
A new study published in Science (abstract) suggests that most dinosaurs were covered with feathers. This conclusion was drawn after the discovery of fossils belonging to a 1.5-meter-long, two-legged dinosaur called Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus. "The fossils, which included six skulls and many more bones, greatly broaden the number of families of dinosaurs sporting feathers—downy, ribboned, and thin ones in this case—indicating that plumes evolved from the scales that covered earlier reptiles, probably as insulation." Its distinctiveness from earlier theropod fossil discoveries suggests that feathered dinosaurs appeared much further back in history than previously thought. Paleontologist Stephen Brusatte said, "This does mean that we can now be very confident that feathers weren't just an invention of birds and their closest relatives, but evolved much deeper in dinosaur history. I think that the common ancestor of dinosaurs probably had feathers, and that all dinosaurs had some type of feather, just like all mammals have some type of hair."
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Siberian Discovery Suggests Almost All Dinosaurs Were Feathered

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  • Rather broad leap.. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 25, 2014 @02:12PM (#47533185)

    For those of us who have been following the literature on the subject, this doesn't really come as a surprise. Rather than that this fossil shows that all/most dinosaurs had feathers where we previously assumed this to be the case only for some groups, this fossil is a confirmation of the already commonly held view (in the field) that feathers were to all probability basal in dinosaurs.

  • Re:Dang... (Score:4, Informative)

    by jc42 (318812) on Friday July 25, 2014 @06:16PM (#47535075) Homepage Journal

    Interesting. Science is wrong, and "creationist parks" get the blame.

    Hmmm ... This isn't really a case of scientists being wrong. The old images of dinosaurs have generally been "artists' interpretations" of the evidence, and scientists generally agreed that they had little evidence of the outer appearance of dinosaurs. Skin and other soft tissues don't fossilize too well, and we haven't had many samples until recently.

    And the idea that birds are close relatives of or descended from dinosaurs isn't new. It was suggested by none other than Charles Darwin himself, based on similarities in the skeletons. Many of his colleagues agreed, but they even more agreed with the reply "Yeah, that's certainly interesting; can you find us some better evidence?" The situation stayed that way until the 1970s or so, because birds don't fossilize well. New fossil discoveries finally supplied enough evidence so that in the 1980s, the birds got officially reclassified as a branch of the dinosaurs.

    But it was still well understood that there were a lot of loose ends, and Further Research Is Needed. Were feathers a development of the birds, for flight? Or had their non-flying ancestors had feathers, perhaps for insulation? The evidence wasn't nearly good enough, and it was left as an open question. Over the past decade or so, the evidence has trickled in, and this report seems to be filling in the gap. People who've followed the story aren't surprised; they're just happy to read about the evidence.

    In any case, it never was a case of "Scientists thought that dinosaurs didn't have any sort of fur or feathers, but they've been proven wrong". It was more like "We didn't have the evidence, since feathers don't fossilize well, and now we've collected enough evidence that we can be pretty sure that those old artistic interpretations reptilian dinosaurs with bare skin were inaccurate; most of them (except the largest) probably did have feathers." This isn't considered a criticism of the artists, of course, since they didn't have evidence either, and many of them stated repeatedly that most of their drawings included a large shovel-full of conjecture. It was expected that, as evidence trickled in, they'd have to revise their drawings a lot.

    But it likely is a good example of non-scientists saying "Scientists proved wrong" when the scientific data goes from "we don't really know ..." to "we've found the evidence ...". This is sorta the flip side of the constant "Those scientists just wasted time and money doing research to prove something that we knew all along" comments from people who have little understanding of what science is all about (and have always "known" things based on no evidence at all).

    (Actually, since I first read about this topic back in the 1970s, I've been rooting for the tyrannosaurs having big, colorful cockatoo-like crowns of feathers. But that's just me, and I'm still waiting. But I won't be surprised either way. ;-)

"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices." -- William James