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Published 3rd.Jun.2019
ARCHAEOPTERYX has been an icon of palaeontology for over 150 years. Its discovery, a few years after the publication of On the Origin of Species , couldn’t have been better timed. Charles Darwin’s theory predicted that the fossil record should be full of transitional forms, as one species gradually evolved into another. Yet these missing links were, well, missing. Then, the strange birdlike dinosaur was unearthed – and instantly became a poster child for evolution.
After all this time, you might think there is little left to discover about the “first bird”. In fact, much of its story has yet to be told. Only this February it emerged that the original fossil – a feather – was not what it seemed. And in recent years, we have found other contenders for the title of first bird. Nevertheless, new insights into the origins and lifestyle of Archaeopteryx reveal it to be a real trailblazer, making an epic journey over sea before settling on remote islands – a trip that shaped its evolution in a way that certainly would have intrigued Darwin.
The first Archaeopteryx skeleton was found in Germany in 1861, close to – and shortly after – the feather. It was about the size of a crow, and headless. Only with the discovery of a second skeleton, a decade later, did it become clear that instead of a birdlike beak,
Archaeopteryx had a snout filled with teeth . Eleven specimens have been found in total , although one vanished mysteriously in 1991 after the death of its owner.