Get ready to travel back in time. Your voyage will take you to a part of eastern Asia as it looked 130 million years ago. At the time, this region--now in the Chinese province of Liaoning--was warm and dry.
Liaoning ("lee-ow-NING") is known for its farmland and factories-and also for some of the most important fossil beds in the world. Since the first dinosaur remains were discovered there in the early 1990s, thousands of fossil plants and animals-including insects, fish, dinosaurs, birds, amphibians and mammals-have been found in Liaoning.
Welcome to the early cretaceious period. It's 130 million years ago in eastern Asia, and you are standing on the marshy shore of a giant lake. Fish swim by and animals from tiny mammals to large dinosaurs make their way through the forest. Among the most intriguing animals from this region are the creatures that are covered in feathers-but aren't birds.
Feathers turn out to be surprisingly complicated. First, there's the question of which animals have feathers. For centuries, people thought feathers were unique to birds. Now we know this isn't true. In the last several years, paleontologists have found feathers on various species of extinct dinosaurs.
Tyrannosaurus rex roamed North America around 66 million years ago. But a small tyrannosaur from the same family lived in the Liaoning forest. This small cousin of T. rex, Dilong paradoxus, was also a fierce predator.
Luckily for scientists, the environment of eastern Asia 130 million years ago was well-suited to preserving fossils.
The Liaoning forest of 130 million years ago offers us a glimpse of the world just before flowering plants became common. Today, plants with flowers--called angiosperms--dominate the landscape. Around 80 percent of green plants alive today, from oak trees to grass, are flowering plants. But 130 million years ago, flowering plants were rare.
In the ancient Liaoning forest, pieces of plants fell into the lake, sank to the bottom, were buried and eventually became fossils. In recent years researchers have found enough fossil plants to re-create the ancient environment with great confidence.
A list of species in the Liaoning diorama.