In DepthPaleontology

Oldest fossil of modern birds is a ‘turducken’

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Science  20 Mar 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6484, pp. 1290
DOI: 10.1126/science.367.6484.1290

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Summary

Go to a Cajun restaurant in New Orleans, and you might be offered a slice of turducken: a fancy dish of chicken stuffed inside of a duck stuffed into a turkey. Now, paleontologists have their own version: the oldest modern bird skull ever found, which predates the split between the duck lineage and that of both chickens and turkeys—and so has traits of all three. Although the earliest birds, like the 150-million-year-old Archaeopteryx, look very different from today's, the new fossil has clear characteristics of modern land and waterfowl, perhaps offering a glimpse of their common ancestor. Discovered near the Dutch town of Maastricht, in famous fossil beds that formed between 66.8 million and 66.7 million years ago, the turducken lived just before the mass extinction that killed off the dinosaurs. And because at least some of its descendants survived the cataclysm, it provides some clues about what traits might have allowed animals to survive that event.

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