Tiny Time Machines Revisit Ancient Life

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Science  17 Dec 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6011, pp. 1616
DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6011.1616

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In the past decade, powerful new x-ray scans and three-dimensional computer models have transformed the analysis of ancient bones, teeth, and shells. But a new kind of analysis is capable of revealing anatomical adaptations that skeletal evidence can't provide, such as the color of a dinosaur's feathers or how woolly mammoths withstood the cold. The new views of the prehistoric world hinge on the realization that "biomolecules" such as ancient DNA and collagen can survive for tens of thousands of years and give important information about long-dead plants, animals, and humans.