Birds of Stone: Avian Fossils from the Age of Dinosaurs

January 27, 2016 • 8:00 am

by Greg Mayer

This coming Monday, February 1, at 7 PM in the Student Union Cinema, the University of Wisconsin-Parkisde will present Luis Chiappe, Director of the Dinosaur Institute of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, will speak on “Birds of Stone: Avian Fossils from the Age of Dinosaurs”.

Dr. Luis Chiappe of the LACM
Dr. Luis Chiappe of the LACM

Many of the features commonly associated with birds (feather, wings, hollow bones, wishbones) were inherited from their dinosaurian ancestors, and these features arose at various times during the birds’ long Mesozoic history. New fossils have laid out this evolutionary saga in great detail, allowing us to trace the changes from the earliest birds, such as Archaeopteryx, to the dawn of modern birds. The talk, part of UW-Parkside’s Science Night series, is intended for the general public.

At noon on Monday, in Molinaro Hall D 139, Dr. Chiappe will present a more technical talk at the Biological Sciences Colloquium entitled “Birding in the Mesozoic: Recent Insights on the Early Evolution of Birds”. There’s also a small exhibit in the UWP Library, “Dinosaurs and Birds: The Art of Science”, that you can stop in and see.

Both talks are free and open to the public. For the evening talk, parking in the Student Union lot is free after 6:30 PM. For the noon talk, there are metered spots, but if any WEIT readers are planning to come, email and I’ll see what we can do. The talks are presented in conjunction with the exhibit “Dinosaurs Take Flight: The Art of Archaeopteryx”, by Silver Plume Exhibitions in conjunction with the Yale Peabody Museum, at the Kenosha Public Museum, on display now through March 27th.


This is a very well done exhibit, combining fine reproductions of almost all of the eleven known Archaeopteryx specimens (the real ones almost never travel!), with an exploration of how several distinguished paleo-artists create their works, including Julius Cstonyi, whose work we’ve highlighted here at WEIT before.

Anyone from Chicago to Milwaukee is within range, and you can make a day of it– the exhibit at the KPM, two talks, and a stop in UWP’s Library. Even if you can’t make it Monday, the exhibit at KPM is well worth a trip on some other day. Here’s a tidbit– a realistic sculpture– from Dinosaurs Take Flight; I hope to post a fuller report later.

Archaeopteryx at its nest.
Archaeopteryx at its nest.


11 thoughts on “Birds of Stone: Avian Fossils from the Age of Dinosaurs

  1. I so wish I was close enough to go. Bird evolution is one of my favorite topics (I’m an aerospace engineer with an interest in biology, so it figures). I made it to the Houston Museum of Natural Science when the Thermopolis specimen was there, and so have been lucky enough to see one of the actual archaeopteryx fossils (the detail in the feathers was striking – something photos don’t do justice to). I’d love to hear these talks, but I guess I’ll just have to make do with your report later.

  2. This sounds wonderful and it looks to be a drive of only several hours, but I gotta work work work…
    I had forgotten that the springy furcula (wishbone) of birds is something that probably came before flight. Good to remember. One thing about the tree of birds, unfortunately, is that it relies on using a # of Cretaceous species as proxies for what the ancestors of birds might look like, but Archaeopteryx is a late Jurassic species.

  3. correction: “newly-discovered fossils”

    Wouldn’t “new fossils” be just dead birds in a muddy field?

  4. ooooohhhhhh…beautiful!

    Archaeopteryx was always my favorite! We have an awesome specimen at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum down at the Mall which is currently under two feet of snow (the Mall not the specimen).

    I downloaded the PDFs but is there going to be a catalog associated with the exhibition? And an online shop maybe? Can’t make the trip unfortunately.

  5. Speaking of archaeopteryx, have there been any new finds since 2011 to more clearly show where it fits into the Paraves family tree? Last I read a few years ago, there was debate about whether archaeopteryx belonged with birds or deinonychosauria (short summary on my personal blog).

    1. I guess I could have googled this before posing my question above. Here’s the Wikipedia article, for anyone interested:
      Archaeopteryx: Phylogenetic position

      It looks like several phylogenetic analyses have been done in the past few years, and if I’m counting right, since the discovery of Xiaotingia, it’s 5 to 2 in favor of archaeopteryx being a bird, with those two other studies putting it more closely related to dromeosaurs. So at this point, it seems like archaeopteryx is probably a bird, but not definitely. At least, that’s the best I can say as an interested laymen who can only read the popular press and isn’t really qualified to compare the various studies.

  6. The BBC has an excellent programme, “Attenborough and the giant dinosaur” Titanosaurus still on iplayer first shown 24th January 2016.

    In it there was a comment about the air spaces in the bones being linked to the lungs and assisted breathing. I see Wikipedia article on evolution of birds, skeletal system; “The skeleton consists of very lightweight bones. They have large air-filled cavities (called pneumatic cavities) which connect with the respiratory system.”
    That was news to me.

    Sam Wollaston wrote a review in the Guardian on 25th January.

    Maybe we should have a dinosaur family called Nohumansaurus (except as fossils)?

    The Titanosaur fossils were found at La Flecha Farm in the Chubut Province in the Argentinian desert.

  7. I recognise that fossil!
    There’s (IIRC) traces of integument (skin), and evidence in the body cavity of organ position. Specifically, the heart.
    Southern Spain, again IIRC. Nature, about 1998?
    I’ll just crawl back into my pit and examine the cover-rock from the underside.

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