Scientists have pieced together the skull of a strange ancient bird, revealing a primitive beak lined with teeth.

The "transitional" bird sheds light on a pivotal point in the pathway from dinosaurs to modern birds.

Ichthyornis dispar lived in North America about 86 million years ago.

Ichthyornis

The seagull-sized bird had a beak and a brain much like modern birds, but the sharp teeth and powerful jaws of dinosaurs like Velociraptor.

It has long been known that birds evolved from dinosaurs in what was a slow gradual process, involving feathers, wings and beaks.

Evidence for feathers has shown up in the fossil record, but it has proved very difficult to study the anatomy of the tiny delicate skulls of ancient birds.

The researchers combined fossil evidence from the complete skull and two previously overlooked cranial fossils with the latest CT scanning techniques to build an advanced 3D model of the skull of the primitive bird.

As study researcher Daniel Field, from the University of Bath, put it, most skull fossils are "squashed flat during the fossilisation process".

He said the "extraordinary new specimen", which was discovered only recently, reveals similar brain proportions to that of a modern bird, while other parts of the skull more closely resemble those of predatory dinosaurs.

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