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Unique Chinese Fossils Help Rewrite Book of Life

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    NHNE News List Current Members: 736 Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message. ... Thanks to Garth Godsman. ... UNIQUE CHINESE FOSSILS
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 6, 2002
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      NHNE News List
      Current Members: 736
      Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message.

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      Thanks to Garth Godsman.

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      UNIQUE CHINESE FOSSILS HELP REWRITE BOOK OF LIFE
      Chinese People Daily
      October 21, 2002

      http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200210/21/eng20021021_105389.shtml

      "Dinosaurs are not extinct, and their descendants are living in the same
      world as humans." Sounds like an advertisement for a science fiction story.

      The words, printed on the name card of a Chinese paleontologist, reflect the
      landmark findings and the latest research. Chinese scientists are making a
      big impact on world paleontological research as they have discovered the
      most extraordinary fossils over the past decade.

      "China has complex tectonic plates and abundant fossils, and the discovery
      of many rare fossils in recent years has attracted the attention of the
      international scientific community," said Yang Zunyi, a 94-year-old
      academician from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the top scientific
      research body in the country.

      Outstanding Paleontological Fossils

      Guizhou, one of China's economically backward provinces, stands out at the
      beginning of the 21st century because of its numerous unique paleontological
      discoveries. It has become known worldwide as the "Kingdom of fossils (or of
      paleontology)."

      The earliest known animal embryo fossil, roughly 670 million years old, was
      found beautifully preserved in phosphorite rock in southern Guizhou. Another
      220 million years old fossil site in the province yielded a world treasure
      of rich and finely preserved specimens of encrinite and aquicolous reptiles.

      "Paleontologists are flocking to Guizhou from all over the world. They feel
      they are fortunate to be able to see such unique fossils and to have chance
      to further their research," Dr. Wang Shangyan, general engineer of the
      geological and mineral survey bureau of the province, says.

      The complex geology and diverse climate here has helped the survival of the
      world's largest forest of spindle tree ferns throughout the same latitudes
      and the dinosaur's favorite food in the Mesozoic era. In local museums,
      various types of dinosaur fossils are on display and speak of the evolution
      of eons.

      Outside the Guizhou Province, new stunning fossil discoveries have been made
      throughout the country over the past few years. These discoveries all
      contributed to what paleontologists worldwide call the "rewriting of the
      evolutionary book of life".

      Birds Origin

      Since the 1990s many feathered dinosaurs' fossils have been found in western
      Liaoning Province, northeast China. Subsequent research linked the
      feather-like skins of the fossils to the plumage of birds. The feathered
      fossil specimen was later named Sinosauropteryx.

      The link between dinosaurs and birds was first proposed by British scientist
      Dr. Thomas Henry Huxley in the mid-1800s. Paleontologists split into the two
      groups who continued sometimes acrimonious debates over avian origins and
      whether or not there was a link with dinosaurs.

      The fossilized Sinosauropteryx is believed to be the dinosaur-bird link. The
      discovery answered the question about the appearance of "protofeathers" and
      so gave convincing evidence of the evolution of birds from small theropods,
      carnivorous bipedal dinosaurs with small forelimbs.

      An even more startling find was made on July 22, 2002, in Liaoning's Yixian
      County, where Chinese scientists discovered the fossil of what was described
      as the Shenzhouraptor Sinensis, a theropod dinosaur that had been able to
      fly.

      The discovery, the only parallel to Archaeopteryx, the most primitive
      avialae bird found in Germany in 1860, gave key proof to the theory of the
      evolution of birds from dinosaurs.

      The dove-sized Cretaceous Shenzhouraptor Sinensis, was only the second such
      primitive bird-type creature ever found in the world. It was at the same
      evolutionary stage as the Archaeopteryx, according to Dr. Ji Qiang, the
      fossil finder who worked with the Institute of Geology of the Chinese
      Academy of Geological Sciences.

      Judging from its shoulder girdle, beak, breastbone, limbs and feathers,
      avian paleontologists were certain that the new avialae bird was really
      capable of flight and is the missing link between theropod dinosaurs and
      modern birds.

      Critics have long said the research into the evolution of birds from
      dinosaurs has lacked "the vital intermediary link." The discovery of the
      Shenzhouraptor Sinensis has filled the gap. This discovery not only put an
      end to the long-standing debates but unfolded a new landscape for further
      research," said Zhang Hongtao,deputy head of the China Geological Survey.

      Vertebrates and Plants

      Yunnan Province, in south China, is another paleontological hotspot. The
      fossils of fish-like creatures that could be the earliest known vertebrates
      were found in 1999 on the outskirts of Kunming, capital of Yunnan in
      southwest China. The creature, older than the previously found Wenchang Fish
      thought of the ancestor of vertebrates, was named the Haikouichtyus.
      Being the world's oldest fish aged more than half a billion years, the
      Haikouichtyus has extended by a startling 50 million years the time when key
      features of vertebrates appeared. This finding was hailed by an American
      scholar as "an extraordinary achievement by humans in the remodeling the
      history of life on earth."

      Back in western Liaoning Province, Chinese botanists found the fossils of
      the most primitive species of angiosperm, a plant whose ovules are enclosed
      in an ovary, according to the official website of the China Geological
      Survey. A new family based on the finds has been set up within the
      angiosperm phylum.

      For a century, debate continued about the time and place of the origin of
      angiosperm. The discovery of the new genus has assured a solution to the
      problem.

      The respected US Journal Science dedicated nine pages of stories and
      graphics in its first issue last year to give credit to China's outstanding
      research into paleontological fossils in recent years.

      "Within lees than a decade, there have been found in China a staggering
      array of fossils of great significance to key evolutionary phases of life,
      and the country's paleontological research has jumped from being
      unremarkable to being the mainstay internationally," said Henry Gee, senior
      biology editor of the prestigious Nature journal based in Britain.

      "I know many unique fossil specimens are still being researched, and I
      believe more spectacular findings will surface in near future in China," Ma
      Fucheng, deputy director of China's National Committee for Natural Sciences
      Fund, noted.

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