A piece of amber containing a fragment of feathered dinosaur tail could have ended up as a piece of jewelry if it hadn’t caught the curious eyes of Chinese scientists.
Lida Xing from the China University of Geosciences in Beijing came across a piece of amber which had in pristine condition preserved the fragment of a dinosaur tail with feathers in three dimensions. Xing came across this remarkable specimen at an amber market in Myitkyina, Myanmar in 2015. Xing recognised the importance of what he was looking at and persuaded the Dexu Institute of Palaeontology in Chaozhou to purchase it.
Subsequently working with an international team of scientists, Xing discovered that the amber was packing inside it partial yet pristine remains of feathered tail of a small juvenile coelurosaur, a type of bird-like dinosaur, that lived some 99 million years ago.
In case Xing wouldn’t have recognised the amber and how important it was for palaeontology, the amber would have ended up as a piece in someone’s living room shelf or as part of jewelry. Why? It turns out that the amber market in Myitkyina, Myanmar is a well known market for amber with traders from multiple regions of the country coming here to buy amber that is retrieved in amber mines in Hukawng Valley, located in the Kachin State of northern Myanmar. Most of these buyers use the amber bought here ends up in either jewelry shops or places where they make small mementos to be handed during award ceremonies and the likes.
As for the study, researchers reveal that the feather coloration pattern is indicative of the fact that the tail fragment is of a young dinosaur that had chestnut-brown dorsal feathers, while its underbelly was pale. Chances are that the feathers could have provided the young dinosaur some protection through camouflage that blends into the woodland environments where the dinosaur presumably lived.
Considering how a little visit to an amber market turned out to be a huge discovery, authors of the study point out that local markets in different countries could be source of highly important fossils in disguise.