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Publication - Mr Evan Saitta

    Experimental subaqueous burial of a bird carcass and compaction of plumage


    Saitta, ET, Clapham, C & Vinther, J, 2018, ‘Experimental subaqueous burial of a bird carcass and compaction of plumage’. PalZ.


    ‘Exceptional fossils’ of dinosaurs preserving feathers have radically changed the way we view their paleobiology and the evolution of birds. Understanding how such soft tissues preserve is imperative to accurately interpreting the morphology of fossil feathers. Experimental taphonomy has been integral to such investigations. One such experiment used a printing press to mimic compaction, done subaerially and without sediment burial, and concluded that the leaking of bodily fluid could lead to the clumping of feathers by causing barbs to stick together such that they superficially resemble simpler, less derived, filamentous structures. Here we use a novel, custom-built experimental setup to more accurately mimic subaqueous burial and compaction under low-energy, fine-grain depositional environments applicable to the taphonomic settings most plumage-preserving ‘exceptional fossils’ are found in. We find that when submerged and subsequently buried and compacted, feathers do not clump together and they maintain their original arrangement. Submersion in fluid in and of itself does not lead to clumping of barbs; this would only occur upon pulling feathers out from water into air. Furthermore, sediment encases the feathers, fixing them in place during compaction. Thus, feather clumping that leads to erroneously plesiomorphic morphological interpretations may not be a taphonomic factor of concern when examining fossil feathers. Our current methodology is amenable to further improvements that will continue to more accurately mimic subaqueous burial and compaction, allowing for various hypothesis testing.

    Full details in the University publications repository