Professors make Jurassic discovery

Are they birds or dinosaurs?

This question has puzzled scientists for almost two decades after the discovery of a bizarre, bird-like family of dinosaurs called Alvarezsauridea, first found in the 1990s.

But GW researchers put an end to this chicken-egg-type conundrum with the discovery that one 160-million-year-old species within this family proves that, although this family of dinosaurs share many characteristics with birds, the two evolved separately.

Professors James Clark and Cathy Forster, along with Chinese researcher Xu Xing of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, and doctoral candidate Jonah Choiniere, traveled to China’s Gobi Desert in 2004 to search for dinosaurs that have shared characteristics with birds in hopes of solving this mystery.

Choiniere, Clark and Xing collaborated on a report about their discovery published in the Jan. 29 edition of Science Magazine.

“There was a lot of confusion about just where these guys fit,” Choiniere said.

Choiniere named the new species Haplocheirus sollers, meaning “simple, skillful hand.”

“The new fossil is clearly a dinosaur. It doesn’t look bird-like or have bird-like proportions or features,” Choiniere said. “But at the same time it shares a lot of features with Alvarezsauridea.”

In China, the team sought dinosaur fossils from the late Jurassic period that were closely related to birds.

“We think that if birds had evolved about 150 million years ago, some of their closest relatives were probably just a little older than that,” Choiniere said.

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