Discovered in 1999, the fossil Archaeoraptor was briefly believed to be the missing link between dinosaurs and birds. Shortly after its unveiling, however, it was determined that Archaeoraptor was instead a fake, probably comprised of up to five specimens of two or more different species. In 2000, scientists identified its tail as that of a Microraptor dinosaur from the early Cretaceous period. Now a report published today in the journal Nature classifies the rest of the faked fossil as the remains of a fish-eating bird.
Zhonghe Zhou and Fucheng Zhang of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing and Julia A. Clarke of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City made the assessment by comparing Archaeoraptor to the fossil bird Yanornis martini. Both the dimensions and anatomical features of the front half of the fossil forgery, including the legs, toes, and beak tip, correspond very closely to those of Y. martini, the team reports. In fact, once breakage is taken into consideration, they are nearly identical. The researchers also analyzed a third, previously undescribed specimen that was recently retrieved from the same fossil-rich region of China and determined that it was also a Yanornis. Digested fish remains preserved in the creature's gut provided scientists with a peek into Y. martini's dietary preferences.