Project 3972: M. Wang, T. A. Stidham, Z. Li, X. Xu, Z. Zhou. 2021. Cretaceous bird with dinosaur skull sheds light on avian cranial evolution. Nature Communications. 12:3890. (In Press)
Specimen: † Enantiornithes (Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences/IVPP V12707:IVPP V12707)


The transformation of the bird skull from an ancestral akinetic, heavy, and toothed dinosaurian morphology to a highly derived, lightweight, edentulous, and kinetic skull is an innovation as significant as powered flight and feathers. Our understanding of evolutionary assembly of the modern form and function of avian cranium has been impeded by the rarity of early bird fossils with well-preserved skulls. Here we describe a new enantiornithine bird from the Early Cretaceous of China that preserves a nearly complete skull including the palatal elements, exposing the components of cranial kinesis. Our three-dimensional reconstruction of the entire enantiornithine skull demonstrates that this bird has an akinetic skull indicated by the unexpected retention of the plesiomorphic dinosaurian palate and diapsid temporal configurations, capped with a derived avialan rostrum and cranial roof, highlighting the highly modular and mosaic evolution of the avialan skull.

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Article DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-24147-z

Project DOI: 10.7934/P3972,
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    Authors' Institutions

    • Chinese Academy of Sciences

    • Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, CAS


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    Min Wang
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