Microscopic pigment structures and proteins that graced the feathers of a Cretaceous-age bird are still present in its 130-million-year-old fossil, a new study finds.
The results, which confirm the oldest evidence of the structural protein beta-keratin, show that molecules can survive in their original state for hundreds of millions of years without fossilizing, and that researchers can use modern techniques to identify them, the researchers said.
The tiny and ancient structures were found on Eoconfuciusornis, a crow-size early bird that lived in what is now northern China during the early Cretaceous. Eoconfuciusornis is one of the first birds known to have a keratinous beak and no teeth. (Not all avian predecessors were toothless. For instance, Archaeopteryx, a transitional animal between dinosaurs and birds, had sharp teeth.)