The tail of a 99-million-year-old dinosaur, preserved in amber complete with bones and feathers, has been found by a Chinese paeleontologist in Myanmar.
Xing Lida reported the finding in a paper in the journal Current Biology, thrilling scientists around the world. Ryan McKellar, a paleontologist at the Royal Saskatchwan Museum in Canada and co-author of the paper, said this was the first time a mummified dinosaur skeleton was discovered.
The 6.5-gram piece of amber, about the size of a dried apricot, was collected by Xing and his research team at a market in Myitkyina, the capital of Myanmar’s Kachin state that is located near the Chinese border, in 2015.
The researchers believe the amber sample originally came from a mine in the Hukawng Valley in Kachin state, the National Geographic reported. Amber from this area is believed to contain the world’s largest variety of animal and plant life from the Cretaceous period.
The National Geographic Society’s Expeditions Council partly funded the research by Xing, who told CNN that the Myanmarese traders believed a plant fragment was trapped in the amber. “I realised that the content was a vertebrate, probably theropod, rather than any plant,” he said.
McKellar said he was “blown away” when Xing showed him the amber. “It’s a once in a lifetime find. The finest details are visible and in three dimensions,” he said.
Feathered dinosaurs were discovered about two decades ago but the researchers said the amber sample allowed them to study the plumage structure to learn more about the “evolutionary developmental pathway of feathers”.
“This specimen provides an opportunity to document pristine feathers in direct association with a putative juvenile coelurosaur, preserving fine morphological details, including the spatial arrangement of follicles and feathers on the body, and micrometer-scale features of the plumage,” the article in Current Biology said.
Fragments of dinosaur-era bird wings have been found earlier but this was the first time that part of a mummified dinosaur skeleton was discovered. The researchers said the preserved tail belongs to a “young coelurosaurian – from the same group of dinosaurs as the predatory velociraptors and the tyrannosaurus”.