[S]cientists say they found an even older feathered dinosaur – one that reestablishes Archaeopteryx as part of the bird lineage even as it may simultaneously dethrone Archaeopteryx as the earliest known “bird.” The study, published online in the journal Nature, provides a key link in the evolutionary chain of events that led from dinosaurs to birds.
“It pushes [back] the origins of birds — or origin of animals that are very closely related to the bird,” said Luis Chiappe, a vertebrate paleontologist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles who was not involved in the paper. “And that’s quite exciting.”
But some say the fossil may just represent a bird-like dinosaur, not a true bird — and in any case, could have been altered before scientists had a chance to study it.
Chiappe points out that the origin of birds proper is complicated. There were many animals around 160 million or so years ago that were experimenting with birdlike characteristics making the “line” of birds messy and unclear. But notice that there is a concern about faked fossils. This has become a business for poor communities who have mastered the art of enhancing fossils for profit. The article includes a link to an article [PDF] that describes the troubles. It’s possible this fossil has been enhanced to look more valuable. What a shame that happens. The presence of these fakes undermine the credibility of material from China and threaten the future of paleontology there. It is illegal but lucrative to export fossils from China
The most famous example of a faked Chinese fossil, Archaeoraptor (not to be confused with Archaeopteryx which is genuine), duped the National Geographic team.
“Archaeoraptor” is the generic name informally assigned in 1999 to a fossil from China in an article published in National Geographic magazine. The magazine claimed that the fossil was a “missing link” between birds and terrestrial theropod dinosaurs. Even prior to this publication there had been severe doubts about the fossil’s authenticity. It led to a scandal when evidence demonstrated it to be a forgery through further scientific study. The forgery was constructed from rearranged pieces of real fossils from different species.
Neurological also has a post on Aurornis xui