Trove of fossil feathers belonged to ‘tiny dinosaurs’

It all began in 1961. Well technically, it began in prehistoric Australia 118 million years ago. That’s the age of Victoria, Australia’s Koonwarra Fossil Bed, which construction workers discovered in 1961. In its heyday, the fossil bed was a living lake “farther south than Antarctica’s Ross Sea today.” Various small animals called it home, including crocodile-like amphibians and tiny dinosaurs. These creatures had to cope with “prolonged periods of polar darkness with winter freezing,” according to paleontologist Martin Kundrát.

The first fossilized feathers came to light in 1962. One of these specimens was “tufted, like a tiny feather duster,” so one can only assume the Flintstones used these animals as actual dusters. By the 1980s, the Koonwarra Fossil Bed fell out of favor with scientists because it didn’t yield many fossils. Martin Kundrát revived interest in the site after finding an old paper that referenced it. 

Kundrát not only revisited these forgotten dinosaur remains but made addition findings with the aid of modern technology. Among their illuminating finds was a series of organelles known as “melanosomes.” The microscopic features contained evidence that the dinosaurs had dark feathers that may have served the purpose of camouflage or communication. Or maybe the darkness masked the dust their feathers accumulated while cleaning Flintstone homes.

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