Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Two feathered dinosaurs from northeastern China


Current controversy over the origin and early evolution of birds centres on whether or not they are derived from coelurosaurian theropod dinosaurs. Here we describe two theropods from the Upper Jurassic/Lower Cretaceous Chaomidianzi Formation of Liaoning province, China. Although both theropods have feathers, it is likely that neither was able to fly. Phylogenetic analysis indicates that they are both more primitive than the earliest known avialan (bird), Archaeopteryx. These new fossils represent stages in the evolution of birds from feathered, ground-living, bipedal dinosaurs.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Get just this article for as long as you need it


Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Protarchaeopteryx robusta.
Figure 2: Protarchaeopteryx robusta.
Figure 3: Protarchaeopteryx robusta, NGMC 2125.
Figure 4: Caudipteryx zoui, holotype, NGMC 97-4-A.
Figure 5: Caudipteryx zoui.
Figure 6: Caudipteryx zoui, skull of NGMC 97-9-A in right lateral view.
Figure 7: Caudipteryx zou.
Figure 8: Feathers of Caudipteryx zoui, NGMC 97-4-A.
Figure 9: Cladogram of proposed relationships of Protoarchaeopteryx and Caudipteryx.


  1. Ji, Q. et al. On the sequence and age of the protobird bearing deposits in the Sihetun-Jianshangou area, Beipao, western Liaoning. Prof. Pap. Strat. Paleo.(in the press).

  2. Hou, L.-H., Zhou, Z.-H., Martin, L. D. & Feduccia, A. Abeaked bird from the Jurassic of China. Nature 377, 616–618 (1995).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  3. Smith, P. E. et al. Dates and rates in ancient lakes: 40Ar-39Ar evidence for an Early Cretaceous age for the Jehol Group, northeast China. Can. J. Earth Sci. 32, 1426 –1431 (1995).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  4. Smith, J. B., Hailu, Y. & Dodson, P. in The Dinofest Symposium, Abstracts(eds Wolberg, D. L. et al.) 55 (Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, 1998).

    Google Scholar 

  5. Colbert, E. H. The Triassic dinosaur Coelophysis. Bull. Mus. N. Arizona 57, 1–160 ( 1989).

    Google Scholar 

  6. Ostrom, J. H. The osteology of Compsognathus longpipes Wagner. Zitteliana 4, 73–118 ( 1978).

    Google Scholar 

  7. Chen, P.-j., Dong, Z.-m. & Zhen, S.-n. An exceptionally well-preserved theropod dinosaur from the Yixian Formation of China. Nature 391, 147–152 (1998).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Wellnhofer, P. Anew specimen of Archaeopteryx from the Solnhofen Limestone. Nat. Hist. Mus. Los Angeles County Sci. Ser. 36, 3–23 (1992).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Sereno, P. C. & Rao, C. G. Early evolution of avian flight and perching: new evidence from the Lower Cretaceous of China. Science 255, 845–848 (1992).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Zhou, Z. H. in Sixth Symposium on Mesozoic Terrestrial Ecosystems and Biota, Short Papers (eds Sun, A. & Wang, Y.) 209–214 (China Ocean, Beijing, 1995).

    Google Scholar 

  11. Ji, Q. & Ji, S. A. Protarchaeopterygid bird (Protarchaeopteryx gen. nov.)—fossil remains of archaeopterygids from China. Chinese Geol. 238, 38–41 (1997).

    Google Scholar 

  12. Wellnhofer, P. Das fünfte skelettexemplar von Archaeopteryx. Palaeontogr. A 147, 169–216 ( 1974).

    Google Scholar 

  13. Wellnhofer, P. Das siebte Examplar von Archaeopteryx aus den Solnhofener Schichten. Archaeopteryx 11, 1– 48 (1993).

    Google Scholar 

  14. Hou, L. H. Acarinate bird from the Upper Jurassic of western Liaoning, China. Chinese Sci. Bull. 42, 413–416 (1997).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  15. Dong, Z. M. Alower Cretaceous enantiornithine bird from the Ordos Basin of Inner Mongolia, People's Republic of China. Can. J. Earth Sci. 30, 2177–2179 (1993).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  16. Forster, C. A., Sampson, S. D., Chiappe, L. M. & Krause, D. W. The theropod ancestry of birds: new evidence from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar. Science 279, 1915– 1919 (1998).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Chiappe, L. M., Norell, M. A. & Clark, J. M. The skull of a relative of the stem-group bird Mononykus. Nature 392, 275– 278 (1998).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Norell, M. A. & Makovicky, P. Important features of the dromaeosaur skeleton: information from a new specimen. Am. Mus. Novit. 3215, 1–28 (1997).

    Google Scholar 

  19. Perle, A., Chiappe, L. M., Barsbold, R., Clark, J. M. & Norell, M. Skeletal morphology of Mononykus olecranus (Theropoda: Avialae) from the Late Cretaceous of Mongolia. Am. Mus. Novit. 3105, 1–29 (1994).

    Google Scholar 

  20. Zhou, Z. H. The discovery of Early Cretaceous birds in China. Courier Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg 181, 9–22 (1995).

    Google Scholar 

  21. Holtz, T. R. J The phylogenetic position of the Tyrannosauridae: implications for theropod systematics. J. Paleontol. 68, 1100 –1117 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. deBeer, G. Archaeopteryx lithographica. Br. Mus. Nat. Hist. 244, 1–68 (1954).

    Google Scholar 

  23. Feduccia, A. & Tordoff, H. B. Feathers of Archaeopteryx : asymmetric vanes indicate aerodynamic function. Science 203, 1021–1022 ( 1979).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  24. Chiappe, L. M. in The Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs(eds Currie, P. J. & Padian, K.) 32–38 (Academic, San Diego, 1997).

    Google Scholar 

  25. Swofford, D. & Begle, D. P. Phylogenetic Analysis Using Parsimony. Version 3.1.1.(Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, 1993).

    Google Scholar 

  26. Gauthier, J. in The Origin of Birds and the Evolution of Flight(ed. Padian, K.) 1–55 (Calif. Acad. Sci., San Francisco, 1986).

    Google Scholar 

  27. Holtz, T. R. J Phylogenetic taxonomy of the Coelurosauria (Dinosauria: Theropoda). J. Paleontol. 70, 536–538 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Owen, R. On the Archaeopteryx of von Meyer, with a description of the fossil remains of a long-tailed species, from the Lithographic Stone of Solenhofen. Phil. Trans., Lond. 153, 33– 47 (1863).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  29. Hou, L. H. Alate Mesozoic bird from Inner Mongolia. Vert. PalAsiatica 32, 258–266 (1994).

    Google Scholar 

  30. Kurochkin, E. N. Atrue carinate bird from Lower Cretaceous deposits in Mongolia and other evidence of Early Cretaceous birds in Asia. Cretaceous Res. 6, 271–278 (1985).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Sanz, J. L., Bonapart, J. F. & Lacasa, A. Unusual Early Cretaceous birds from Spain. Nature 331, 433–435 ( 1988).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  32. Kellner, A. W. A., Maisey, J. G. & Campos, D. A. Fossil down feather from the Lower Cretaceous of Brazil. Palaeontol. 37, 489– 492 (1994).

    Google Scholar 

  33. Grimaldi, D. & Case, G. R. Afeather in amber from the Upper Cretaceous of New Jersey. Am. Mus. Novit. 3126 , 1–6 (1995).

    Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank A. Brush, B. Creisler, M. Ellison, W.-D. Heinrich, N. Jacobsen, E. and R. Koppelhus, P. Makovicky, A. Milner, G. Olshevsky, J. Ostrom and H.-P. Schultze for advice, access to collections and logistic support; and the National Geographic Society, National Science Foundation (USA), the American Museum of Natural History, National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Ministry of Geology for support. Photographs were taken by O. L. Mazzatenta and K. Aulenback; the latter was also responsible for preliminary preparation of the Caudipteryx specimens. Line drawings are by P.J.C.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Philip J. Currie.

Supplementary Information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Qiang, J., Currie, P., Norell, M. et al. Two feathered dinosaurs from northeastern China. Nature 393, 753–761 (1998).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing