Scientific evidence indicates that a massive asteroid struck the earth 66 million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs in what is known as a “mass extinction.” While all non-avian dinosaurs perished, some relatives of modern ducks, ostriches and chickens survived, according to genetic data and fossil clues.

Birds and their dino-relatives were among the earliest forms of terrestrial life, the oldest of which is known as archaeopteryx, whose plumage has been re-created based on actual fossil feathers preserved in stone for 150 million years.

How do we know so much about a time when rock records of sheer chance are all that survive? The greatest proof is found in a slice of rock in Canada. Micro-fossils in the Paleogene era indicate the time when ferns took over forests and dinosaurs ruled but that layer also contains cracked quartz and rare metals suggesting a strike on the surface by an object as large as a mountain and it's location has recently been discovered! Chicxulub Puerto on the Yucatan Peninsula shows the crater rim whose footprint extends out into the Gulf, creating the hellscape that gave the ancestors of modern birds an edge.

Additional fossil data is becoming available in China’s Liaoning Province. It is yielding a treasure trove of primitive bird contemporaries including feathers, scales and skin that even contains pigment.

What an assortment they were: many were flightless, carnivorous, of all different plumages and colors, and all related to birds today. There will be more revelations as the earth gives up its secrets.


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