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Dino-Birds: The Feathered Dinosaurs of China

A quarry in Liaoning province

  China's Feathered Dinosaurs

When plants and animals die they quickly begin to decay and are usually eaten or scavenged by other organisms. It is an extremely rare event for something to be buried before it is consumed, but occasionally remains are preserved in this way and, over millions of years, they become fossils. Species that live in water stand the best chance of becoming fossilized, as their dead bodies are quickly covered by sediment when they sink to the bottom. Sealed away from the usual processes of decay, these buried corpses gradually turn into fossils.

This was the fate of the plants and animals that lived in the uplands of Liaoning province, northeastern China, more than 120 million years ago. At that time, the forested lakesides of Liaoning were full of a variety of wildlife. From time to time, nearby volcanoes would erupt, sending clouds of poisonous gas and ash into the air, killing anything in their path. The gas killed everything that breathed it and the dead were sometimes covered with a fine powder of volcanic ash, delicately shrouding their bodies, preserving them in unimaginable detail.


A quarry in Liaoning province.

A quarry in Liaoning province

  Most rare of all are the fossilized remains of whole communities, which provide a 'snapshot' of life in Liaoning at that time.

For years Liaoning's farmers supplemented their incomes selling the many fish and reptile fossils they dug up on their land. But, in 1995, ancient fossil birds were discovered, which attracted the attention of scientists from The Geological Museum of China. Later, a much more curious discovery was made - China's feathered dinosaurs had finally been uncovered.