Wednesday, May 12, 2010

X-Ray Images of Archaeopteryx Show Original Chemistry

In the "Way Cool" department, bright x-ray images of Archaeopteryx have revealed that part of the original bone chemistry still exists. In an article in ThaiIndian, this is reported:
The discovery could revolutionise the field of palaeontology says the team led by scientists at the University of Manchester and the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Lab in the US.

By recording how ‘bright X-rays’ interacted with the fossil, the team have created maps showing chemical elements which were part of the living animal itself.

The maps show that portions of the feathers are not merely impressions of long-decomposed organic material — as was previously believed.

Instead, they include fossilised fragments of actual feathers containing phosphorous and sulphur, elements that compose modern bird feathers.

Trace amounts of copper and zinc were also found in the dinobird’s bones: like birds today, the Archaeopteryx may have required those elements to stay healthy, said a Manchester release.
Despite the fact that "SLAC National Accelerator Lab" is redundant (SLAC stands for "Stanford Linear Accelerator"), this is yet more evidence that despite having mostly dinosaurian characteristics, Archaeopteryx had some crucial derived traits that support its transitional status. As Prothero1 notes, there have been five different kinds of feathers identified in the fossil record on various dinosaurs and early birds. The next step is to see when true flight feathers evolved.

1Prothero, D. 2007. Evolution: What the fossils say and why it matters. Columbia Univ Pr.

Now playing: Anthony Phillips - Lost And Found
via FoxyTunes


  1. You're right. That is waaay cool. The downer is the mention that specimen preparation and pre-exhibition cleaning probably whacked a lot of potentially good info before the technique was devised.

  2. Cool indeed.

    FYI: SLAC is no longer an acronym. The DOE wanted to trademark the name (or do something else legal with it - I'm fuzzy on the details), and Stanford University objected. So the compromise that was worked out was changing SLAC from an acronym to a very odd word. See