Riddle of the Feathered Dragons

Riddle of the Feathered Dragons: Hidden Birds of China

Alan Feduccia
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 384
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vm6ck
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Riddle of the Feathered Dragons
    Book Description:

    Examining and interpreting recent spectacular fossil discoveries in China, paleontologists have arrived at a prevailing view: there is now incontrovertible evidence that birds represent the last living dinosaur. But is this conclusion beyond dispute? In this book, evolutionary biologist Alan Feduccia provides the most comprehensive discussion yet of the avian and associated evidence found in China, then exposes the massive, unfounded speculation that has accompanied these discoveries and been published in the pages of prestigious scientific journals.

    Advocates of the current orthodoxy on bird origins have ignored contrary data, misinterpreted fossils, and used faulty reasoning, the author argues. He considers why and how the debate has become so polemical and makes a plea to refocus the discussion by "breaking away from methodological straitjackets and viewing the world of origins anew." Drawing on a lifetime of study, he offers his own current understanding of the origin of birds and avian flight.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16569-2
    Subjects: Paleontology, Zoology, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-5)

    The news media’s feeding frenzy on the recent dinosaur bonanzas seems never ending, with publications reporting almost weekly “astounding” breakthroughs on the origin of birds ranging from deciphering the color of supposed dinosaur “protofeathers” to unearthing birds’ actual ancestors. Under “T. rexDiscoveries,”USA Todayreported on 29 December 2009 that “for a critter dead 65 million years,T. rexhad a pretty good year as relatives turned up in study results almost weekly.” Accompanying the article was an illustration of the small “ancestor” clothed in a pelt of presumed protofeathers. Just a year earlier, a “rex-chicken” nexus based on...

  5. 1 ROMANCING THE DINOSAURS: Blame to Go Around
    (pp. 6-32)

    “Romancing” refers to an ardent emotional attachment, and nowhere in paleontology does the term apply more aptly than to dinosaurs, which have long been an intense focus of almost every child’s fascination. But enchantment with the terrible lizards reached a crescendo with the 1993 Michael Crichton blockbuster movieJurassic Park, featuring an amusement park of cloned dinosaurs, and the view that birds are living dinosaurs ascended from theory to an unchallengeable orthodoxy. Propelled to the forefront over two decades earlier by John Ostrom’s discovery of the famous raptorDeinonychus(considered “a bizarre killing machine”), in the late 1960s, the entire...

  6. 2 WHAT DID EVOLUTION’S HIGH PRIEST SAY?
    (pp. 33-54)

    In December 1874, Thomas Henry Huxley, passionate and eloquent defender of Darwin’s theory and commonly dubbed “Darwin’s bulldog,” wrote to Ernst Haeckel, the famed German embryologist and an early champion of Darwinian ideas. The subject was the anatomical and embryological similarity ofAmphioxus(a small, primitive, fishlike chordate whose Latin name means “sharp at both ends”) to the true vertebrates: “My Dear Haeckel … it is demonstrable thatAmphioxusis nearer than could have been hoped to the condition of the primitive vertebrate—a far more regular and respectable sort of ancestor than even you suspected.”¹ Amphioxus (now a collective...

  7. 3 THE ICONIC URVOGEL WAS A BIRD
    (pp. 55-92)

    Before the astounding recent discoveries of avian and dinosaurian fossils from the Mesozoic of China, the only substantial evidence for the earliest evolution of birds from their reptilian beginnings came from fossil specimens from the approximately 150-million-year-old deposits from the Late Jurassic of Bavaria, specimens known to the Germans as the urvogel, or ancient bird, discovered almost 150 years ago. TheArchaeopteryx, as it was named, played a significant role through the years not only in discussions of avian and flight origins but also in discussions of evolutionary processes.

    In 1861, less than two years after the publication of Darwin’s...

  8. 4 MESOZOIC CHINESE AVIARY TAKES FORM
    (pp. 93-189)

    In the past three decades avian paleontology has been reinvigorated and literally revolutionized by the discovery of extraordinary new material from both Cretaceous and Tertiary rocks, nowhere more so than by the breathtaking and electrifying fossil discoveries from China. Yet, as is often the case in paleontology, these new data have raised as many questions as they have answered and many interpretations are speculative. While dazzling discoveries have poured out of the Chinese Early Cretaceous, other important discoveries have also greatly advanced the field.¹ In the early 1980s Paleocene and Eocene fossils of lithornithids, volant paleognaths related to and likely...

  9. 5 BIG CHICKS: The Flightless Birds
    (pp. 190-229)

    The evolution of the flightless condition in birds has been among the most intriguing and most studied features of avian evolution, in part because of people’s fascination with large animal size in general, harkening back to the discovery of dinosaurs and the giant New Zealand moa in the nineteenth century. In the early years after their discovery, flightless birds were thought by Thomas Henry Huxley and others to be direct derivatives from dinosaurs that led to modern volant birds. We now know that these views were erroneous, but the general, superficial appearance of the large flightless ratites (ostrich and allies)...

  10. 6 YALE’S RAPTOR: Toward Consilience, not Consensus
    (pp. 230-268)

    Following Thomas Henry Huxley’s various pronouncements on the evolutionary relationships of birds and dinosaurs, attention focused on the New World, where two soon-to-be-famous rivals, Edward Drinker Cope (1840–97) and Othniel Charles Marsh (1831–99), were emerging.

    After the publication of Richard Owen’sArchaeopteryxpaper in 1863, Cope, a well-off aspiring paleontologist from Pennsylvania, traveled to Munich to view the Solnhofen fossils at the Bavarian State Collection. There he was shown the specimens by none other than Alfred Opel, who had made the only sketch of Karl Häberlein’sArchaeopteryx.¹ Afterward Cope traveled to London to study the actual specimen of...

  11. APPENDIX 1 A SLIVER OF URVOGEL BONE: IMPLICATIONS FOR ENDOTHERMY Hot-Blooded Dinosaurs Emerge
    (pp. 269-274)
  12. APPENDIX 2 THE PERSISTING PROBLEM OF AVIAN DIGITAL HOMOLOGY
    (pp. 275-290)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 291-328)
  14. GENERAL REFERENCES
    (pp. 329-330)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 331-358)