Archaeopteryx is the most iconic of fossils: Many of the specimens beautifully capture this snapshot of evolution – showing the creature’s skeleton, feathers and teeth in great detail.
But now a new scanning technique has revealed that one fossil contains fragments of the original feathers – rather than just being an imprint of an animal whose remains had long ago disintegrated into the dust.
The bad news though is that museum curators have inadvertently chipped and scrubbed off a lot more fragments of the creature’s feathers and skin fragments as they prepared the fossil for public display to highlight the bones.
But researchers are hopeful they’ll be able to study other specimens and obtain more details of the chemistry of the creature’s feathers and possibly learn more about their colour.
Dr Roy Wogelius, from University of Manchester, who was among those who made the discovery, is keen to alert curators that the new scanning techniques reveal that many precious fossils contain more than just the remnants of bone.
“One of the things we are very concerned about is that some of the original information has been lost forever,” he said.