The amber hunters who dug up the segment in Burma (Myanmar) assumed the encased remains were vegetation, making the amber valuable when carved into jewelry. It probably did not occur to them that their discovery could be a dinosaur tail with secrets to tell. But a Chinese paleontologist named Xing Lida, perusing a Burmese amber market in 2015 for objects of scientific interest, recognized the amber’s true value.
“With the new specimen from Myanmar, we finally get that association between identifiable bones and feathers preserved in exquisite detail,” said Ryan McKellar of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada, a paleontologist and an author of the study, in an email to The Washington Post. Lida, McKellar and their Chinese and Canadian colleagues published an analysis of the tail on Thursday in the journal Current Biology.
This was not the first time that paleontologists examined feathers trapped in Cretaceous amber. But without underlying body parts, doubt remained that the plumage once sprouted from dinosaurs. This amber held eight vertebral segments as well as soft tissues. Beneath the feathers were, McKellar and his co-authors wrote, “presumably muscles, ligaments, and skin” — rarities in a discipline historically reliant on fossilized bones. (Chemical analysis even found traces of iron oxides in the tail, suggesting dino blood contained hemoglobin.)
This is a stunning find — photos at the link.
UPDATE: More from Kruiser.