Magazine article Newsweek

Ruffling Some Old Feathers: A Fossil May Cast Doubt on the Dinosaur-Bird Theory

Magazine article Newsweek

Ruffling Some Old Feathers: A Fossil May Cast Doubt on the Dinosaur-Bird Theory

Article excerpt

You never know what you're going to see at the mall these days. When Oregon State University paleobiologist John Ruben and his student Terry Jones visited the Crown Center in Kansas City, Mo., last year, they came across something even weirder than what the local mall rats were wearing. Cash-strapped Russian scientists had organized a touring exhibit of fossils, including the only known specimen of a mouse-size animal called Longisquama. The little guy was pretty unremarkable, with one spectacular distinction--a flourish of four-inch-long appendages jutting out from each of its sides. Paleontologists thought they were particularly odd scales, perhaps used to help the 220 million-year-old reptile glide from tree to tree. But after borrowing the specimen and analyzing it through the night in a vacant shop, Ruben and Jones were convinced that Longisquama's embellishments were something stranger yet: feathers.

Most paleontologists consider modern birds to be the direct evolutionary descendants of the group of dinosaurs that includes Tyrannosaurus rex and the velociraptors of "Jurassic Park" fame. Bird bones are so similar to those dino skeletons that some scientists refer to chickens as "living dinosaurs." A small band of dissenters don't buy the dino-bird connection, and they've sniped at the theory for years. But without a viable alternative, their protests haven't carried much weight. With Longisquama, the dissenters think they've found their great feathered hope. …

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