Feathered dinos older than Archaeopteryx fulfill an evolutionary prediction!

One of the puzzles in the evolution of birds from theropod dinosaurs appears to have been solved, at least according to this BBC report (I haven’t yet read the paper, which hasn’t been published).  The discovery of pre-Cretaceous feathered dinosaurs fulfills a prediction that I — and of course many others — have made about what the fossils should show about the temporal existence of feathered dinos.   The transitional “bird-lizard” Archaeopteryx had fully-formed feathers, but all of the feathered dinosaurs found in the last few years have been younger than Archaeopteryx.   This leaves a gap, since the oldest transitional form already has well-formed feathers.

On p. 44 of Why Evolution is True I say this:

“All these nonflying feathered dinosaur fossils date between 135 and 110 million years ago — later than the 145-million-year old Archaeopteryx. That means that they could not be Archaeopteryx‘s direct ancestors, but they could have been its cousins.  Feathered dinosaurs probably continued to exist after one of their kin gave rise to birds. We should, then, be able to find even older feathered dinosaurs that were the ancestors of Archaeopteryx.  The problem is that feathers are preserved only in special sediments — the fine-grained silt of quiet environments like lake beds or lagoons. And these conditions are very rare.  But we can make another testable evolutionary prediction: someday we’ll find fossils of feathered dinosaurs that are older than Archaeopteryx.”

I am chuffed to report that that day is TODAY!  A group of paleontologists from China have announced the finding of several species of feathered dinosaurs (including a “four-winged” version) that are ten million years older than Archaeopteryx.  This is a wonderful discovery, and a fulfillment of an evolutionary prediction as strong as that made by Neil Shubin, who predicted, and found, tetrapod transitional forms in Canadian rocks of exactly the right age.

Oh, and here’s another prediction:  we will some day find dinosaurs with even more rudimentary feathers than the ones described today, and these fossils will be around 160 million years old.

Dino fossil fossil _dino_xing_466

Fig. 1.  One of the new feathered dinos, Anchiornis huxleyi (photo from BBC website). Download the paper (see bottom of post) for graphic interpretation of the fossil.


Fig. 2. Reconstruction of one of the dinos with feathers on fore- and hindlimbs. (From BBC website).


Update:  The paper is indeed online, and you can download it here as a pdf file.

Hu, D., L. Hou, L. Zhang, and X. Xu. 2009. A pre-Archaeopteryx troodontid theropod from China with long feathers on the metatarsus. Nature 461:640-643.

h/t: Greg Mayer


  1. NewEnglandBob
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Listen to that wonderful sound of another gap being filled.

    It appears that something violent happened that three specimens are found in one fossil.

    • Your Name's Not Bruce?
      Posted September 25, 2009 at 11:43 am | Permalink


      I think this is just one specimen in the photo of the fossil. All four limbs carry long feathers not just the arms/wings. This was a four winged creature like the younger genus Microraptor.

  2. josh
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    The paper is available here:

  3. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Listen to that wonderful sound of another gap being filled.

    Which, from the Creationist viewpoint, is the sound two more gaps being created!

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted September 25, 2009 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      That is why I envision it as a gap being filled; like a dentist repairing a caries or a tile worker grouting.

  4. Posted September 25, 2009 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    I recently read that chapter in WEIT and saw I saw the news article this morning.

    But the implications didn’t really click until I saw Jerry’s comments.

    Well done, everyone!

  5. Posted September 25, 2009 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Someone like Behe will just say that he accepts evolution–while completely ignoring the fact that all evolutionary predictions (many of which have been fulfilled) are predicated upon the capabilities and limits of known mechanisms.

    Or in other words, they accept some of the conclusions of science without accepting the science itself. To be sure, denying the science is what ID is about.

    Glen Davidson

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted September 25, 2009 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      It amazes me that some people can accept micro-evolution and deny macro-evolution.

      Another disconnect is artificial selection verses natural selection. I love Dawkins’ expression in TGSOE that artificial selection is experimental proof of natural selection.

  6. KP
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    I’ve been hammering away at one of my extremely Christian friends and one of the examples I’ve been using is the bird/dino relationship, so this couldn’t have come at a better time!

    So will we you have to update and re-issue WEIT??? hahaha.

    • KP
      Posted September 25, 2009 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      I don’t know how that “we” got in there…

  7. Posted September 25, 2009 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    That’s so cool!!

    Like Ray M, I read that page just recently – last week in my case – so it’s fresh in my mind.

    That day is today! That is so cool!

  8. Posted September 25, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Score one for mother nature.


    And again.

  9. salon_1928
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    Crap – 2 more (albeit smaller) gaps just appeared!

  10. Magnifico
    Posted September 26, 2009 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Awesome! I remember very distinctly reading that part. I wondered if those necessary conditions for fossilization were as rare then as they are now. How cool to have an answer to a scientific question so immediately after reading of it.

  11. Tomas Kindahl
    Posted September 27, 2009 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    Why should anyone but a fool liar deny that evolution is true?

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] People who study evolution make predictions all of the time. Here is one: Jerry Coyne predicts that a fossible more “primitive” feathered dinosaur will be discove…; he gives a target age as […]

  2. […] preceded Archaeopteryx (a transitional form that might have flown).  I posted about this issue a while back, and quote Greg’s email […]

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