Palaeontologist reconstructs feathered dinosaurs in the flesh with new technology
Until now it has been hard to get an accurate idea of the shape of a dinosaur from its fossilised remains, as only their bones are usually preserved. Using a new technique, Dr Michael Pittman from the Department of Earth Sciences, the University of Hong Kong and his collaborators reconstructed the first highly detailed body outline of a feathered dinosaur based on high-definition images of its preserved soft tissues.
|Life reconstruction of the bird-like feathered dinosaur Anchiornis. Revised life reconstruction using |
the new body outline laser-stimulated fluorescence data [Credit: Julius T. Csotonyi 2017]
The technique developed by collaborator Tom Kaye of the Foundation for Scientific Advancement, scans the fossils with a violet laser in a dark room. The laser “excites” the few skin atoms left in the matrix making them glow, to reveal what the shape of the dinosaur actually looked like.
Dr Pittman and his colleagues examined over 200 specimens of the feathered bird-like dinosaur Anchiornis to find the dozen with special preservation.
The quantitative reconstruction shows the contours of the wings, legs and even perfectly preserved foot scales, providing new details that illuminate the origin of birds.
“The detail was so well lit that we could see the texture of the skin,” said Dr Pittman. Anchiornis lived in the late Jurassic period (~160 million years old), close to the time when palaeontologists think birds first appeared.
These new insights provide crucial information for reconstructing how dinosaurs experimented and eventually achieved flight.
|Anchiornis fossil [Credit: Shandong TianYu Museum of Natural History]|
Dr Pittman is one of the few dinosaur experts in the region. He is currently offering a free HKU online course Dinosaur Ecosystems.
This ground breaking work was published in Nature Communications.
Source: The University of Hong Kong [February 28, 2017]