Wings Found from 99 Million Years Ago Are a Lot Like Those on Birds Today - Atlas Obscura
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Wings Found from 99 Million Years Ago Are a Lot Like Those on Birds Today

They were encased in amber.

(Photo: Nature)

Recently, scientists found some very old wings. Ninety-nine million years old, to be exact—a time when dinosaurs were still earth’s dominant vertebrates.

Scientists frequently find wing, bone, and other fragments encased in amber, but this new find is something they haven’t encountered before: bone, feathers, and tissue, still intact. 

More remarkable is how closely the old feathers line up with the plumage of modern-day birds, which are said to be the only living direct descendants of dinosaurs. 

“We don’t get something like this,” a co-author of a paper published Tuesday in Nature Communications, told National Geographic. ”It’s mind-blowingly cool.”

The wings are thought to be from a enantiornithe, an extinct group of birds who lived during the Cretaceous period. The layering, arrangement, and color of the feathers is largely similar to the birds of today. 

The group that made the discovery acquired the amber in an unusual place: a market in Myitkyina, the capital of the northern Myanmar state of Kachin, which is controlled by a rebel group, the Kachin Independence Army.

Much of the world’s recovered amber samples come from the region, though the political uncertainty means that the market and collection of the amber is unregulated, and, as a result, much of it ends up being sold in China. 

There, it’s often used for jewelry, meaning that some unsuspecting Chinese necklace buyer could be wearing the scientific discovery of a lifetime.