SCIENCE -- September 21, 2013 at 3:08 PM ET
Dinosaur Discovery: Feathers may give scientists clues about early birds
Prehistoric Preserves: Feathers and filaments found in amber dating back 78-79 million years show similarities to modern birds. | Credit: Science/AAAS
Paleontologists in Canada have made a landmark discovery by "digging" in their own backyard.
After looking at more than 4000 bits of amber in collections of Canadian museums, a team found 11 samples containing prehistoric feathers and what the team believes could be the early precursors to feathers, also known as "protofeathers."
Fragments of feathers found in the amber pieces could yield new discoveries about prehistoric birds and feathered dinosaurs | Credit: Science/AAAS
As reported in Science Magazine, Ryan McKellar, a paleontologist at the University of Alberta, marveled at the "unparalleled preservation of feathers" some of which even show faint hints of color.
Some of the feathers, dating back nearly 78 million years, display characteristics similar to those found in birds today--such as the ability to absorb water--but McKellar also found some more unusual specimens.
Inside some of the amber samples, for example, McKellar ran across "a dense forest of regularly spaced, flexible filaments." McKellar said these filaments are not plant fibers or animal hair, but that's where the trail stops cold.
"We don't absolutely know what they are, but we're pretty sure what they're not," he said.