A 160 million-year-old fossil may shed light not only on how birds evolved from dinosaurs, but also how flight began, BBC reported.
Scientists have named the fossil Aurornis, which means "Dawn Bird." The bird stood at a height of about one-foot, seven inches. The specimen had a primitive avian skeletal structure that places at the bottom of the evolutionary line.
The fossil was found in China encased in a shale slab that was taken from the well-known fossil beds in Liaoning Province.
Pascal Godefroit from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences wrote the paper describing Aurornis, his past publications have looked into how many bird-like ancestors were related in the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.
A fossil called Archaeopteryx discovered in the 19th century was at the time considered to be "the first true bird." It has now joined a number of avian ancestors from the same period that had some form of similarity with birds.
Dr. Godefroit claimed that most previously discovered bird-like fossils only shared about 200 morphological characteristics, the Aurornis shares 1,500.
"It's a much bigger and more robust analysis, and according to this new investigation Archaeopteryx is again considered an ancestor of birds and the new creature we describe is also a basal bird; and in fact it is even more primitive than Archaeopteryx," Dr. Goderfroit said.
The new study does place the Archaeopteryx at one of the earliest known points of divergence from dinosaur to bird, the study also reshuffles the order of the bird-like family known as Troodontidae, which is considered to be "a sister group of the avians," according to BBC.
"We're looking at a nexus of animals around bird origins - birds themselves and a bunch of dinosaurs that are almost, but not quite, birds," said Dr. Paul Barrett from the Natural History Museum in London. "There is a really grey, wobbly line between the two. Just one or two changes across a huge body of data can make the difference between an animal being on one side of this bird-dinosaur divide or the other"