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Animated 3D digital reconstructions of early European birds: a new window on the origin of avian flight using “state-of-the-art” techniques on exceptional fossils


"The origin of avian flight is possibly the most spectacular example of an evolutionary transition and, consequently, has aroused passionate scientific debate and fired public attention. The fossil record indicates that birds emerged within theropods (a group of carnivorous dinosaurs that includes species such as Tyrannosaurus rex) in the Late Jurassic. Mesozoic birds are extremely rare. Their fossil remains are mostly known from exceptional sites such as that of Las Hoyas, in Spain. Four beautifully preserved bird specimens (one of them unpublished), representing at least three species, have been found at Las Hoyas. They are intermediate forms between the primeval bird Archaeopteryx and modern birds both in age and evolutionary stage. The recent advances in X-ray imaging technologies and computer modelling, together with the discoveries of these key specimens, make it possible to use digital reconstructions to study the origin and evolution of flight from a biomechanical perspective. This project aims at using various ""state-of-the-art"" techniques to re-create digitally these early birds so as to study their preservation, chemistry, locomotion, and flight abilities. The fossil birds from Las Hoyas will be digitally brought back to life thanks to the prodigious possibilities offered by synchrotron imaging (both tomographic and chemical). The 3D musculoskeletal models will be animated according to the limitations dictated by their reconstructed anatomy, so that their flying performance can then be evaluated. The synchrotron-based imaging will also provide data to aid in the reconstruction of plumage patterns of the Las Hoyas birds. This ambitious project will bring together ""state-of-the-art"", interdisciplinary science to elucidate and resurrect the biology and locomotor ability of these pivotal avian species."

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Oxford Road
M13 9PL Manchester
United Kingdom

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Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Administrative Contact
Liz Fay (Ms.)
EU contribution
€ 309 235,20