Amber is a remarkable preservative, as anyone who has seen the "Jurassic Park" movies is well aware. Insects and other small creatures are often found trapped inside these ancient deposits, but sometimes scientists get lucky and find something even bigger.
In fact, a recent find from ancient amber deposits in Myanmar might just be the amber jackpot. Scientists identified two ancient bird wings, which presumably belonged to two baby birds that got stuck in a tree's gooey resin around 100 million years ago, reports the BBC.
The wings are so well preserved that they still display some of the colors and patterns of the birds' plumage. It's the first real look at what birds that flew alongside dinosaurs might have looked like.
Not only might the finding shed light on the early evolution of birds, which actually evolved from dinosaurs, but it could illuminate the mechanics of how these primitive birds flew.
"These are showcase specimens and some of the most surprising fossils I've seen in a long time," said co-author Mike Benton from the University of Bristol. "We've known for a few decades that many dinosaurs had feathers, but most of our fossils are impressions of feathers on crushed limestone slabs."
He added: "Three dimensional preservation in amber provides a whole new perspective, and these fossils make it clear that very primitive birds living alongside the dinosaurs had wings and feather arrangements very similar to today's birds."
The feathers displayed an intricate pattern of spots and stripes, and the wings had sharp little claws which likely allowed the baby birds to climb and cling to trees. In fact, scientists found evidence for claw marks in the amber, which suggests the birds were probably still alive when they became stuck.
Scientists also took X-rays that revealed the structure and arrangement of the bones and feathers. The bone structure of the wings was consistent with fossils from an extinct group of birds known as Enantiornithes, which went extinct around the same time the dinosaurs did, around 66 million years ago.
Perhaps one of the more interesting finds was the discovery of barbs on the feathers, which means the feathers were interlocking — an important feature among birds capable of powered flight. It's therefore likely that these ancient avians flew much like modern birds do.