August 26, 2009

Color found in 40 million-year-old fossils

Yale University scientists say they have discovered evidence of vivid iridescent colors existing in feather fossils more than 40 million years old.

The researchers said their finding represents the first evidence of a preserved color-producing nanostructure in a fossilized feather.

Iridescence is the quality of changing color depending on the angle of observation, such as the rainbow of colors seen in an oil slick, the scientists said.

These feathers produced a black background with a metallic greenish, bluish or coppery color at certain angles -- much like the colors we see in starlings and grackles today, said Professor Richard Prum.

Professor Derek Briggs, also an author of the study, added the discovery opens up remarkable possibilities for the investigation of other features in soft-bodied fossils, like fur and even internal organs.

The discovery, made using an electron microscope, might also result in determining color features of other ancient birds and even dinosaurs.

Of course, the 'Holy Grail' in this program is reconstructing the colors of the feathered dinosaurs, said graduate student and lead author Jakob Vinther. We are working hard to determine if this will be possible.

The findings are reported in the journal Biology Letters.