"It's the only almost complete skull of a modern bird that we have, so far, from the age of dinosaurs and it's able to tell us quite a lot about the early evolutionary history of birds". Its various features mimic those of modern species of chickens and ducks. What they saw proved to be the find of a lifetime: a near-complete 66.7-million-year-old bird skull. The discovery of this kind proves that Europe was a key area in the early evolutionary history of birds "new generation" (previously it was thought that they flew to other continents from Antarctica).
"Until we CT scanned some rocks with poorly preserve bird limb bones poking out, we had no idea how spectacular this new fossil was", says Daniel Field, a paleobiologist at the University of Cambridge and first author on the new study.
A "wonderchicken" fossil unearthed in a quarry is one of the best preserved of all time and could help us discover how modern birds evolved.More news: President Trump Cancels In-Person G7 Summit Planned For June
"This skull is one of the best-preserved fossil bird skulls of any age, so the fact that it is from such an important point in Earth history is incredible", Dr Field added.
"Finding the skull blew my mind", said co-author Juan Benito, also from Cambridge, who was CT scanning the fossils with Field when the skull was discovered.
Three-dimensional image of the skull of the world's oldest modern bird, Asteriornis maastrichtensis.More news: Trump touts malaria drug that FDA says isn't approved for virus
Basal birds are so far removed from crown birds that scientists can't be sure which, if any, of their descendant species, known as neornithines, gave rise to modern birds. Thus, the upper and back part of the skull of asterions structurally resemble those of modern ducks, while the front part and the beak is similar to those seen in chickens and turkeys. That suggests the evolution of the family tree for modern-day-birds was in a very early stage when the asteroid struck, Field said. "In Greek mythology, Asteria transforms herself into a quail, and we believe Asteriornis was close to the common ancestor that today includes quails, as well as chickens and ducks", Ksepka said. "The late Cretaceous fossil record of birds from Europe is extremely sparse", said co-author Dr John Jagt of the Natuurhistorische Museum Maastricht in The Netherlands. The new moniker is apt, with the falling stars representing the asteroid that triggered the end-Cretaceous mass extinction, and the quail representing fowl birds, to which Asteriornis bears a significant resemblance.
According to Field, the fossil reveals that that early on, at least some modern birds were fairly small-bodied, ground-dwelling birds that lived near the seashore.
"The wonderchicken is going to rank as a truly important fossil for helping clarify the factors that actually gave rise to modern birds".More news: New coronavirus can survive on some surfaces for days