It has long been the consensus among scientists that birds evolved from dinosaurs, and there is a lot of evidence to support this idea. Much of the fossil evidence supporting this comes in the form of impressions from feathers, left in the rock around the bones that fossilized. Feathers don’t generally survive that process, though like footprints or scales they can leave impressions that still tell us quite a bit.
But a recent discovery puts those impressions to shame, and it’s all thanks to amber. Amber, which is fossilized tree sap, is translucent, so when things get caught inside it and it hardens, we can get a pretty good look at those objects. Finding bugs trapped in amber is probably the most common example, and everybody’s familiar with that from Jurassic Park. But scientists just found a piece of amber that contains two wings from baby dinosaurs that are about 99 million years old.
The wings have claws, a common feature of a group of transitional dinosaurs known as enantiornithes, which also had teeth unlike modern birds. The wings are really well preserved, allowing us to see the still intact feathers. Those feathers, and the way they’re laid out and attached to the wings themselves, are remarkably similar to the feathers of modern birds. This tells us that claws and teeth lasted well longer than feathers themselves.
The feathers are brown and white, and the wings are from two different specimens, which are likely the same species, but that remain to be seen. There are also what appears to be claw marks inside the amber, which implies that the creatures were alive when they got trapped in the sap and tried to escape. That’s a bit of a grim ending surely, but it did allow the creature to be preserved for millions of years, at least in part, and will be a huge clue in our understanding of the past and of evolution.