Archaeopteryx (extinct)
Scientific classification
Kingdom Information
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Information
Phylum Chordata
Sub-phylum Vertebrata
Class Information
Class Aves
Order Information
Order Archaeopterygiformes
Family Information
Family Archaeopterygidae
Genus Information
Genus Archaeopteryx
Species Information
Species A. siemensii
Population statistics

Archaeopteryx, an extinct bird known from a small number of fossils, is considered by evolutionary biologists to be the first species of bird to appear on Earth.[1]

Archaeopteryx is sometimes presented as evidence of evolution because the bones have some characteristics reminiscent of reptiles, making it appear to be a so-called "transitional form" between reptiles and birds.

There are two criticisms of the Archaeopteryx. The preeminent British physicist, Sir Fred Hoyle, determined it to be fraudulent. Another criticism is even if Archaeopteryx existed, it was a true bird and not a transitional form suggesting evolution.


There are currently ten known specimens of Archaeopteryx[2]. All have been found in the limestone of the Solnhofen area in Germany.[3]

Speciman When found Location fount People involved Current location Comments
Feather[4] 1860 Near Solnhofen Described by H. von Meyer Humboldt Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin Single feather only.
London specimen[4][3] 1861 Near Langenaltheim Announced by H. v Meyer British Museum of Natural History, London Missing the head and neck
Berlin specimen[4][3] 1877 Near Blumenberg Described by W. Dames Humboldt Museum für Naturkunde The most complete specimen
Maxberg specimen[4][3] 1958 Near Langenaltheim Found and owned by Eduard Opitsch Was in Maxberg Museum but now missing Torso
Haarlem Specimen[4][3] 1855 Near Riedenburg Described by H. von Meyer Teylers Museum, Haarlem Not classified as Archaeopteryx until 1970. Not very complete
Eichstätt Specimen[4][3] 1951 Near Workerszell Described by Peter Wellnhofer Jura Museum, Eichstätt Smallest specimen
Solnhofen Specimen[4][3] 1960s Near Eichstätt Described by Wellnhofer Bürgermeister-Müller-Museum in Solnhofen Missing some pieces, but fairly complete
Munich specimen or Solnhofen-Aktien-Verein specimen[4][3] 1991 Near Langenaltheim Described by Wellnhofer Paläontologisches Museum München, Munich First specimen to be found with an intact sternum, proving Archaeopteryx was capable of powered flight like modern birds
Thermopolis specimen[5][6] Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, Wyoming Had been privately owned in Switzerland

First criticism: fraud

In 1983, a half-dozen leading British scientists including Sir Fred Hoyle carefully studied the two best Archaeopteryx specimens, front and back, and declared them to be fakes.[7] They discovered that the front and back slabs of each specimen do not match.[8] They found that an alteration had been made to the left wing as depicted in an 1863 drawing.[8] They concluded that the feather markings had been imprinted by hand.[8] They also found that etching process had used cement blobs.[8] When the scientists requested the ability to use an electronic microscope and carbon-14 dating, the museum refused and withdrew the specimens from the scientists.[8] The same British Museum had been responsible for the Piltdown Man fraud.

The Nobel Prize committee punished Sir Fred Hoyle for exposing this fraud by passing him over and giving its award to his underling for work that Hoyle was the undisputed leader on.

Second criticism: not a transitional

The second criticism of the Archaeopteryx, that it is not a transitional form, has been strengthened by the work of anatomist Dr. David Menton[9] suggesting that Archaeopteryx is a true bird with flight feathers, not a transitional form at all. In 1994, an article explained that the Archaeopteryx was essentially a flying bird, with a large cerebellum and visual cortex. The fact that it had teeth is irrelevant to its alleged transitional status -- a number of extinct birds had teeth, while many reptiles do not (the South American hoatzin, Opisthocomus hoazin, also shares with Archaeopteryx clawed digits in its wings, albeit as juveniles). Furthermore, like other birds, both its maxilla (upper jaw) and mandible (lower jaw) moved. In most vertebrates, including reptiles, only the mandible moves.[10]

Evidence for evolution?

In 1993, an article was published in Science magazine arguing that the Archaeopteryx had fully-formed flying feathers (including asymmetric vanes and ventral, reinforcing furrows as in modern flying birds), the classical elliptical wings of modem woodland birds, and a large wishbone for attachment of muscles responsible for the downstroke of the wings[11]

While most evolutionary scientists agree that the flight feathers of Archaeopteryx were essentially modern, several papers since have argued against Feduccia's claims about the anatomy of Archaeopteryx[12] Specimens such as the Thermoplis Specimen [13] are thought to clearly show that the arms, wishbone, tail, feet, hips, and palate of Archaeopteryx were more like meat-eating theropod dinosaurs than modern birds.

The brain of Archaeopteryx was essentially that of a flying bird, with a large cerebellum and visual cortex.[10] Critics point out that its teeth are irrelevant to its alleged transitional status, as a number of extinct birds had teeth, while many reptiles do not.[10] Furthermore, like other birds, both its maxilla (upper jaw) and mandible (lower jaw) moved. In most vertebrates, including many reptiles, only the mandible moves.[10]


See also


  1. "Archaeopteryx is the oldest bird in the fossil record." - John Wells [1]
  2. Wikipedia claims an eleventh specimen, but only lists ten.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Magovern
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 Nedlin, 1999 (The TalkOrigins Archive)
  5. The Wyoming Dinosaur Center]
  6. Hartman, 2005
  7. Sarfati, 2000
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 British Journal of Photography (March-June 1985).
    W.J. Broad, "Authenticity of Bird Fossil is Challenged," N.Y. Times C1, C14 (May 7, 1985).
    T. Nield, "Feathers Fly Over Fossil 'Fraud'," New Scientist 1467:49-50.
    G. Vines, "Strange Case of Archaeopteryx 'Fraud'," New Scientist 1447:3.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Wieland, 1994
  11. Feduccia, 1993
  12. "The tenth skeletal specimen of Archaeopteryx," Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 149:97-116, 2007.
  13. Wyoming Dinosaur Center.

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