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    Archaeopteryx regains its perch on the bird family tree

    NewsBird NewsThursday 27 October 2011
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    A new study claims to re-establish the status of Archaeopteryx as the earliest bird – and not just another bird-like dinosaur.

    Archaeopteryx, the famous feathered fossil, was probably the oldest and most primitive bird after all.

    For 150 years the creature occupied top spot on the avian evolutionary tree until this summer when the discovery of a close relative suggested it was a mere bird-like dinosaur. Now it looks to have regained its previous perch thanks to a more sophisticated anatomical analysis.

    "This shows that when you look at the data with a higher degree of analytical rigour it supports the traditional view that Archaeopteryx is a bird," said Dr Paul Barrett, a dinosaur researcher at London's Natural History Museum.

    The first complete specimen of Archaeopteryx was discovered in Germany in 1861, two years after the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species.

    It lived around 150 million years ago, had sharp teeth, three fingers with claws, a long bony tail, feathers, broad wings, could grow to about 0.5 metres in length and could fly.

    This combination of avian and reptilian characteristics saw it positioned at a key spot in the branching off of birds from dinosaurs in the tree of life, and provided hard evidence to back Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.

    Since then palaeontologists have largely taken it as the starting point for bird life.

    Source: The Guardian

     

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