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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Prehistoric bird as big as an ostrich identified by single jawbone that lay undiscovered in museum for years

By Anna Edwards

Many finds are uncovered in unexpected places.

But this discovery is even more unusual as scientists have only just unearthed an important bone right from under their noses - in a museum.

A single jawbone which has lain undiscovered in a museum for several years has identified a gigantic prehistoric bird which could have been as big as an ostrich.

Find: The partial lower jaws of the giant Cretaceous bird Samrukia nessovi that has lain undiscovered in a museum for several years has
identified a gigantic prehistoric bird which could have been as big as an ostrich

Now scientists have pieced together the clues to discover the prehistoric creature it came from.

Dr Darren Naish, of the University of Portsmouth, said that the bird was estimated to have been between two and three metres tall, and lived around 85 million years ago in Kazakhstan.

It has been discovered from the fossil of a single jawbone which has been found in a Brussels museum.

Named Samrukia nessovi, it represents one of the largest birds known from the Cretaceous period, a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

The fossil is only the second giant, land-living bird species to be discovered in Cretaceous-aged rocks and the first to be found in Asia.

A previously recognised species, Gargantuavis philoinos, found in France, was named in 1998 but experts have argued over its identification.

A paper published today in Biology Letters suggests that the new, Kazakh specimen confirms the presence of giant birds in the Cretaceous period.

Dr Naish said: 'Since the 1850s we've known that numerous bird species lived during the age of the dinosaurs (known as the Mesozoic Era), but virtually all were crow-sized or smaller.

'We can now be really confident that Mesozoic terrestrial birds weren't all thrush-sized or crow-sized animals - giant size definitely evolved in these animals and giant forms were living in at least two distinct regions.'

If the newly-discovered bird flew, its wingspan was likely to have exceeded four metres, but Dr Naish said there was no way of knowing if it took to the skies or was flightless like an ostrich.

He added: 'People tend to forget that birds co-existed with their dinosaurian relatives but it now seems that the Cretaceous was not a 'dinosaurs-only theme park'.

'This find confirms that large birds were living alongside dinosaurs and may have been more widespread than previously thought.'

Dr Dave Martill, from the university's School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, said: 'This significant discovery demonstrates how young scientists can make an impact on our knowledge and emphasises how much field work remains to be done and how many exciting discoveries are left to unearth.'



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