The Liaoning Forest

Part of the Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries exhibition.

from AMNH video © 2005

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.

How do we know so much about this ancient environment? How do we know that these trees, turtles, insects and dinosaurs lived together in this forest? And how do we know that the dinosaurs you see here really had feathers? Countless fossils preserved on the bottom of the lake provide firsthand proof. These fossils provide a window into Liaoning's fascinating past.

Sinornithosaurus millennii fossil.
AMNH/Mick Ellison


Examine the Evidence

When the fossil shown here was discovered in Liaoning, it joined a growing list of dinosaur fossils showing evidence of feathers. But this fossil is unique because the imprints of feathers are astonishingly clear.

Sinornithosaurus apparently had three types of feathers:

  • simple hairlike filaments
  • downy tufts
  • modern feathers
Craig Chesek/AMNH


Sinosauropteryx prima.
Craig Chesek/AMNH



Species: Sinosauropteryx prima

"sigh-no-sore-AHP-ter-ix PREE-ma"

Birdlike dinosaur with short, featherlike fibers on body.

The fossil remains of Sinosauropteryx provided the first evidence that animals other than birds had a featherlike covering. But this dinosaur was not covered in feathers as we know them today.

Instead Sinosauropteryx had a coating of thin, hollow filaments on its body. These primitive feathers may have served to keep the animal warm, much as hair does on mammals.

Confuciusornis sanctus.
AMNH/Denis Finnin


Species:Confuciusornis sanctus

"con-FEW-shis-or-nis SANK-tus"

Flying bird; one sex had long tail feathers, which may have been used in mating displays

Birds like Confuciusornis evolved from an early feathered dinosaur.