I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Okay, feathered dinosaurs, y'all. I remember when these were being found and debated and I have been to a LOT of lectures about those early feathered finds.
And I've heard Phil Currie tell the story, so I have it from the horse's mouth. What Brusatte says about local Chinese farmers is absolutely true--they are educated individuals who have returned to the farms in Liaoning Province and they supplement their income by prospecting for fossils.
What Brusatte neglects to mention is that the Jehol Group (the geological formation in Liaoning) is a Laggerstatten, a sedimentary formation which preserves extraordinary fossils, often including soft tissues. These fossils can be found by splitting sedimentary layers and you will often find a fossil by splitting it, leaving part on the top layer, part on the bottom layer, part and counterpart.
A very savvy farmer found Sinosauropteryx and he sold it's part and counterpart to two separate museums. Double the income. Yay farmer! However, the heads of the two museums loathed one another. Neither would give up their portion of the significant fossil and neither would allow their portion to travel to where the other piece was.
Enter Dr. Currie, who was a neutral person and a diplomat, to visit both museums, examine both part and counterpart, confirm that they were parts of the same fossil and examine those fuzzy bits that you see coming down the spine.
Oh the huffing and the puffing of experts, many of whom had never seen the fossil, about whether that fluff was feathers or not. Much the same as when Archaeopteryx was found and the fuss over whether its feathers were real or not (and those were obviously flight feathers, unlike the fuzz on Sinosauropteryx.)
In 1999, feathered fossils came to Alberta, specifically to Drumheller's Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, where Dr. Currie was the head of Dinosaur fossils at the time. I made a pilgrimage and I hauled out my exhibition catalogue the other night to reminisce a bit:
(Sorry, nothing that I've tried can make this image display in the right direction.) I believe that the cover depicts Caudipteryx, not mentioned by Brusatte, but a fossil from Liaoning which featured obvious feathers, including those wonderful tail feathers.
I'm thrilled that it seems that the vast majority of paleontologists now agree that dinosaurs (at least the theropods) had feathers and that birds are indeed dinosaurs. This combines two of my own obsessions: Dinosaurs and bird watching.