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Tanya Lewis, LiveScience Staff WriterDate: 30 May 2013 Time: 04:26 PM ET

first bird fossil
A birdlike dinosaur from the Middle/Late Jurassic of China could be the first of the bird group.
CREDIT: Masato Hattori

The skeleton of a Jurassic dinosaur from China could also be the oldest known bird, scientists report.

The fossil of Aurornis xui was found last year in a museum at the Fossil and Geology Park in Yizhou, China, long after a farmer first dug it up in the Liaoning Province. The feathery specimen represents the most ancient of the avialans, the group that includes birds and their relatives since their split from nonavian dinosaurs.

The research also reconfirms the birdlike fossil Archaeopteryx as an avialan, a classification that was challenged by some recent research. [Avian Ancestors: Dinosaurs That Learned to Fly]

Not everyone agrees that the new specimen is strictly a bird. “In my opinion, it’s a bird,” study author Pascal Godefroit, a paleontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels, told Nature News. Even so, he added, “The differences between birds and [nonavian] dinosaurs are very thin.”