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Fossil muddies the origin of birds

New specimen may be a feathered dinosaur — or the earliest avian yet discovered

2:18pm, May 29, 2013

EARLY BIRD This new fossil, found in a Middle/Late Jurassic formation in China and named Aurornis xui, may be the earliest bird yet discovered; others argue it is a birdlike dinosaur.

A birdlike fossil that dates to roughly 155 million years ago is ruffling the feathers of some paleontologists. At issue is whether the fossil is a dinosaur, an early bird or something in between.

“This new animal is the most primitive bird in the world,” says paleontologist Pascal Godefroit of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. He and an international team of colleagues describe the new specimen May 29 in Nature. The fossil comes from northeastern China’s Tiaojishan formation and is named Aurornis xui.

Not everyone agrees with Godefroit’s interpretation. “This is very birdlike, but it is not yet a bird,” says paleontologist Luis Chiappe of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

If Aurornis is in fact a bird, the specimen may have implications for scientists’ view of Archaeopteryx, the most famous birdlike dinosaur (or dinosaur-like bird). A controversial 2011

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