X-Rays Reveal Pigment Patterns in Fossilized Dinobird

Image - Calcium distribution in C. Sanctus

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June 30, 2011

Synchrotron rapid scanning x-ray fluorescence image of the calcium distribution in a fossil specimen of Confuciusornis sanctus, an ~120 million year old avian species, the oldest documented to display a fully derived beak. Calcium is high in the bones as shown by the bright white areas, but calcium is also high in the areas corresponding to residue of downy feathers in the neck region. This is interpreted to be due to the distribution of calcium being controlled by eumelanin chelates in the neck feathers, indicating that these soft tissues were originally darkly pigmented. 

Data were collected at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource.

Image created by Gregory Stewart, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.