Sunday, August 07, 2011

Knocking Archaeopteryx off its perch

We all know the story. Archaeopteryx was the first bird. Back in the Jurassic, this little creature, stunningly preserved in German sandstone as one of the most famous fossils of all time, was flitting through the treetops, dodging those clumsy pterosaurs and chuckling at its ground-bound dinosaur cousins. That picture has changed a bit: pterosaurs, for example, were covered with filaments like hair and were not clumsy at all - but the story was the same..
Xu Xing of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, though, has a new take on the matter. He thinks a small dinosaur found in China is the closest relation to Archaeopteryx and proves both were true dinosaurs.
"The most exciting result from our research is that both Xiaotingia and Archaeopteryx are primitive deinonychosaurs rather than birds. In other words, Archaeopteryx is a kind of Velociraptor ancestor rather than a bird ancestor."
COMMENT: It's going to take a long time (and many more fossils) to sort out who's right here. DInosaurs and their kin have repeatedly confounded paleontologists since the original picture of giant belly-dragging lizards was imagined from the remains of beasts like iguanodon. What's important is that we keep looking and keep learning. Remember the old saying, "Will wonders never cease?" Maybe not when it comes to the Mesozoic Era.

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