WASHINGTON — A small collection of amber-trapped feathers that may have belonged to dinosaurs or birds 80 million years ago have been found in a Canadian museum collection, said a study on Thursday.
Ryan McKellar, a graduate student at Canada's University of Alberta, pored over more than 4,000 specimens held at the university and at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.
Eventually he found 11 worthy samples of preserved feathers, described in the journal Science as "the richest amber feather find from the late Cretaceous period," some 65 to 99 million years ago.
The Cretaceous period is best known for ending with a massive extinction of land and marine species that also marked the end of the dinosaurs.
The samples McKellar uncovered, which range in color from brown to black, were preserved in tree resin that became amber, pulled from Canada's most famous amber deposit near Grassy Lake in southwestern Alberta.
No fossils of birds or dinosaurs have been found nearby, but the amber showcases "four evolutionary stages for feathers," said the study, suggesting that a range of dinosaurs and birds once nested, flew and swam there.
Some appear "similar to the protofeathers of nonavian dinosaurs that are unknown in modern birds" while others look to be advanced "bird feathers displaying pigmentation and adaptations for flight and diving."