Archaeologists dug out what is possibly the oldest fossil found of a modern bird skull, and scientists identified it and dubbed it as "wonderchicken". This fossil is said to be an ancestor of ducks and hens that we see today. The bird fossil has been dated way back to 67 million years ago, which means that the ancient birds were alive side by side with dinosaurs for millions of years before they died out.
Just before a massive asteroid strikes Earth and wiped out dinosaurs, the bird fossil that was discovered by archaeologists gives us an idea of how modern birds were born. Birds are direct descendants of dinosaurs, but how they evolved into birds like the ones that we see today is still an unanswered mystery. This is because there is a lack of fossil data, however since there is a newly discovered fossil skull of an ancient bird, it could help start the study and research.
According to Daniel Filed, the author and palaeobiologist from the University of Cambridge said that the moment that they saw the fossil, they were ecstatic with the discovery and new they need to start their study. The fossil is a unique specimen, scientists are calling it the "wonderchicken."
Dr. Filed added that the discovered fossil is the only nearly complete skull of a modern bird that they have, and since it came from the era of dinosaurs it can tell them a lot about the evolutionary history of birds. The bird skull fossil is one of the best-preserved fossils that they have discovered. The full findings of the research and study were published in the journal Nature.
The fossil was named "wonderchicken" because it looks like a mix of duck and chicken. It was discovered in the Romontbos Quarry near fort Eben-Emael in Liege, on the border of Belgium and Netherlands. The bird skull fossil also has leg fragments, with the bird showing a lot of common features with the birds that you see in farms today.
The fossil is the oldest example found of a common ancestor to the line of birds that are called "galloanserae" which includes quails. The scientific name of the "wonderchicken" is "Asteriornis", to give honor to the ancient Greek goddess of falling stars, Asteria, who turned herself into a quail, according to legends.
The results of the research
Scientists did a high-resolution CT scan of the bird fossil and it helped them know that the bird fossil was of a small-bodied, ground-dwelling bird. According to the co-author of the study, Juan Benito, finding the skull was one of the highlights of their career. Without the cutting-edge scans, the scientists would have never known that they were holding the oldest modern bird skull in the world.
The origins of the birds that we see today are a mystery, and their diversity is also a question among scientists. Aside from knowing that modern birds evolved towards the end of the era of dinosaurs, scientists have very little fossil evidence until after the asteroid hit the Earth millions of years ago. The newly discovered fossil gives them a new material to work.