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PROFESSOR MIKE BENTON, Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology, University of Bristol

The Feathered Dinosaurs from China and the Origin of Birds

Spectacularly preserved fossils of birds and small dinosaurs from China show that feathers evolved early. These early feathers share fine ultrastructural details with modern feathers, and reveal for the first time the exact colours of some of these ancient creatures.

Date: 9th March 2010

Time: 17:30 - 18:30

Venue: Curtis Auditorium, Herschel Building (opposite Haymarket Metro)

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Ever since Darwin, it has become clear that birds are flying dinosaurs. Archaeopteryx has become an iconic fossil, a half-bird, half-dinosaur, and exemplar of evolutionary change. New discoveries from China show that many dinosaurs had feathers, and the evolution of bird characters can be followed in detail.  The latest discovery, reported in February 2010, shows the colours of those dinosaurian and early bird feathers. A research team from Bristol and Beijing has discovered melanosomes, key agents of colour, buried in the ulstrastructure of the feathers. This has profound implications for our understanding of the evolution of feathers and bird and dinosaur behaviour. 

Michael Benton is a world-famous palaeontologist, a specialist in the evolution of the backboned animals, especially dinosaurs. He completed his PhD in Newcastle in 1984 and has since studied various mass extinctions, major diversifications, and large-scale evolutionary trees. He is now working with Chinese colleagues on the preservation of exceptional fossils from the Cretaceous of China, including dinosaurs and early birds. He has written over 50 books, and over 200 scientific papers, and has received numerous medals and prizes, and was Head of the Department of Earth Sciences at Bristol University for seven years.