Fossil Feathers

06 February, 2011

Bird feather fossil specimen
Bird feather fossil specimen
Image: Benjamin Healley
Source: Museum Victoria

Question: Is it true that the Museum has a collection of fossil feathers that are from a dinosaur?

Answer: There are a number of fossilised feathers that were found at a fossil site near the Gippsland town of Koonwarra which are now in the Museum Victoria fossil collections; these are known as the ‘Koonwarra feathers’ (for obvious reasons). These fossil feathers are very small and are of interest because of their age – they were found in a very fine-grained Cretaceous sedimentary rock, and this makes the fossils more than 100 millions old - old enough to potentially be from dinosaurs.

Many Palaeontologists regard all birds, living and extinct, as a type of dinosaur – in this sense, you can say that these fossil feathers are definitely dinosaur feathers (also, this rather surprisingly suggests that dinosaurs are not all extinct and some are very common today). At this stage we can’t be certain that the Koonwarra feathers came from any particular species of dinosaur, bird-like or otherwise. The feathers are downy, insulating feathers rather than flight feathers. Perhaps future study will help us understand the origin of these tiny but important feathers a little more.

You can see one of the tiny Koonwarra feathers, view a model of the famous feathered dinosaur Archaeopteryx and learn about the evolution of birds from dinosaurs in the Melbourne Museum exhibition “600 million years – Victoria evolves.”

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