A visit to an amber market in Myanmar has turned up an apricot-sized section of feathered tail belonging to a 99-million-year-old sparrow-sized dinosaur, CNN reported Thursday.
The unique artifact, containing bone fragments and feathers, has been hailed as a “once in a lifetime” find, allowing scientists to see a dinosaur tail in three dimensions.
The 6.5 gram (0.23 ounce) piece of skeleton belongs to a type of dinosaur closely related to the predatory velociraptors and the tyrannosaurus, according to a paper published in the December issue of Current Biology.
The find, spotted at the market by Chinese paleontologist Xing Lida, adds to mounting fossil evidence that many dinosaurs had primitive plumage rather than scales, the paper says.
The casing of amber — fossilized tree resin — preserved pigmentation from the feathers and helped the scientists to work out how the pint-sized dinosaur probably looked.
Ryan McKellar, a paleontologist at the in Canada and co-author of the paper, said, “It’s a once in a lifetime find. The finest details are visible and in three dimensions.”
McKellar said the creature would have had a whip-like tail covered with feathers. It could, he said “have danced in the palm of your hand.”
“It really underlines the importance of amber as an anchor for future study,” he added. “We’re picking up features we couldn’t see in compressed sedimentary fossils.”