Liu, Y.-Q., Kuang, H.-W., Jiang, X.-J., Peng, N., Xu, H., and H.-Y. Sun. 2012. Timing of the earliest known feathered dinosaurs and transitional pterosaurs older than the Jehol Biota. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology (advance online publication) http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2012.01.017
Abstract - The Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota in China has produced numerous well preserved fossils of feathered theropods and early birds. Recent discoveries of feathered dinosaurs, as well as transitional pterosaurs and a sexually mature individual of Darwinopterus preserved together with an egg from the Daohugou Biota of an earlier age than the Jehol Biota, in northeastern China, have greatly enriched our knowledge of the transition from dinosaurs to birds and primitive to derived pterosaurs. The age estimate of fossils or host strata, however, has proven to be contentious and varies widely from the Middle Jurassic to the Early Cretaceous. Here, we report a SHRIMP U-Pb zircon date unambiguously associated with the fossil horizons, and thus, for the first time, provide an age calibration for the earliest appearance of feathered dinosaurs and transitional pterosaurs. Date results indicate that the feathered dinosaurs of China were present more than 161 Ma ago, unquestionably older than Archaeopteryx in Germany, and are the earliest known feathered dinosaurs in the world. Furthermore, feathers appeared in ornithischians before 159 Ma rather than late in the Early Cretaceous. The known transitional pterosaurs first emerged before 161 Ma. The Daohugou Biota, containing mammals, primitive pterosaurs, insects and plants, in addition to the feathered dinosaurs, was living in Inner Mongolia, western Liaoning and northern Hebei in northeastern China during the Middle Jurassic.