|A schematic of a synchrotron (University of Saskatchewan)|
The results suggest that Confuciusornis sanctus,eumelanin. Eumelanin is a dark coloured pigment found in feathers, fur and skin. Using the synchrotron the researchers found copper on the bird's body and tail feathers suggesting that these were once coloured by eumelanin. Using other techniques the researchers were able to say that the copper had indeed come from organic molecules proving that it was part of fossilized pigment.
|A blue jay feather, squid, and fossil fish with feather are shown in optical images (top) and X-ray images (bottom)showing the distribution of copper (red). Copper in the dark parts of the feathers, the fish eye, and the squid ink sack indicates the presence of eumelanin pigmentation.Phil Manning, Nick Edwards, Holly Bardeon/University of Manchester; SSRL; SLAC (cbc.ca)|
This discovery is of great importance not only in reconstruction what extinct animals actually looked like, but also in understanding their behaviour. In the modern world animals use colour for camouflage, hunting, mating displays, etc. We assume that these behavioural characteristics were evolved in the pre-historic world but there was no way to confirm this. Further advances in these techniques and this research may allow us to do just that.
Here is the CBC story that drew my attention to the article and here is the abstract from Science.