World’s oldest bird discovered
March 18, 2020 - A newly discovered 66-million-year-old fossil indicates that “modern” birds survived the asteroid impact that caused the mass extinction of all large dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period.
The spectacular fossil, affectionately nicknamed the “Wonderchicken”, includes a nearly complete three-dimensional skull found inside a rock from a limestone quarry near the Belgian-Dutch border.
Writing in the prestigious journal Nature, an international team of palaeontologists led by the University of Cambridge
report that the skull combines many features common to the group that includes living chickens and ducks – a group called Galloanserae.
Dr Daniel Field from Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences, who led the research, said that “this is one of the best-preserved fossil bird skulls of any age, from anywhere in the world”.
Asteriornis provides the earliest direct glimpse of what modern birds were like during the initial stages of their evolutionary history.
The fossil bird has been given the scientific name of Asteriornis in reference to Asteria, the Greek Titan goddess of falling stars.
The announcement of the find coincides with a new exhibit at Cambridge’s Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, where visitors can learn more about Asteriornis and see the fossil up close. “Dawn of the Wonderchicken” is scheduled to run from March 19 to June 15. Admission is free.