Flying dinosaur unearthed in China

31st May 2013

China is home to an array of magnificent cultural sites, but can any of them claim to be older than one just unearthed in a Liaoning Province quarry?

Archaeologists have found a flying dinosaur that lived around 150 million years ago.

This region of north-eastern China is already favoured by holidaymakers on group tours, with its fascinating architecture, artefacts and natural beauty.

Now scientists from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels say the whole fossilised skeleton sheds fresh light on the evolution of birds.

The Aurornis xui, boasting roughly the same dimensions as a chicken, is 20ins long with small, triangular teeth and covered in primitive feathers.

It was a close relation of the earliest-known flying bird Archaeopteryx. Both were avialans - dinosaur-birds that diverged millions of years ago from the theropods that included Tyrannosaurus Rex.

The findings back the theory all the dinosaurs which eventually became birds took to the skies at around the same time, while retaining some defensive and hunting features such as tiny teeth.

Birds later lost them as they evolved and no longer needed them in-flight.

Liaoning is thought to have been covered by a lake at the time of the Aurornis xui and supported a complicated eco-system of dinosaurs, birds, fish and mammals.

Some of their bodies floated to the lake's bed where they were preserved by silt or buried by volcanic ash.

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