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Scientific classification
Kingdom Information
Domain Eukaryota
Kingdom Animalia
Subkingdom Bilateria
Branch Deuterostomia
Phylum Information
Phylum Chordata
Sub-phylum Vertebrata
Infraphylum Gnathostomata
Class Information
Superclass Tetrapoda
Class Aves
Order Information
Order Archaeopterygiformes
Family Information
Family Archaeopterygidae
Genus Information
Genus Archaeopteryx
Species Information
Species A. lithographica
A. macrura
A. recurva
A. siemensii
Population statistics
Conservation status Extinct

Archaeopteryx, an extinct bird known from a small number of fossilized remains found in southern Germany, is claimed by evolutionary biologists to be the first species of bird to appear on Earth,[1] as well as a so-called "transitional form" between reptiles and birds.

There are two criticisms of Archaeopteryx. The first is that the fossils are an elaborate hoax as claimed by the British astronomer and physicist, Sir Fred Hoyle; the second is that Archaeopterix is a true bird, and not a transitional form suggesting evolution.


Archaeopterix was roughly crow-sized, with an over-all body length of 18 inches. Discounting the feather impressions in some of the fossil specimens, Archaeopterix had a build generally-similar to that of a small theropod dinosaur, with the species Compsognathus cited. Both wings ended in three-fingered claws. The tail was long, feathered on either side. Evidence that the legs were feathered as well was shown in the Berlin specimen as recently as 1880, prior to that fossil's preservation.

The bill, like modern birds, was capable of independent movement in both the upper and lower jaws; unlike modern birds, both jaws were studded with small teeth.

The hip bones are fully-formed and bird-like, i.e. the pubic bone points to the rear, unlike theropod dinosaurs (which had a forward-pointing pubic bone) from which evolution claims an ancestry. Despite this contradiction, some authorities prefer to place Archaeopterix within the order Avetheropoda, which includes such theropods as Tyrannosaurus rex and Spinosaurus[2]

All known fossils - approximately thirteen - were found in the Solenhofen limestone formation of southern Bavaria, Germany.


Fraud dispute

Charges of fraud

In 1983, a half-dozen leading British scientists led by noted British Radio-astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle carefully studied the plates and counter-plates from the two best Archaeopteryx specimens, and found evidence of forgery.[3] They discovered that the front and back slabs of each specimen do not match.[4] They found that an alteration had been made to the left wing as depicted in an 1863 drawing.[4] They concluded that the feather markings had been imprinted by hand.[4] They also found that etching process had used cement blobs.[4] 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.[4] The same British Museum had been responsible for the Piltdown Man fraud.

Assertions of authenticity

Scientists who have since inspected the London Archaeopteryx and other specimens have conlcuded these fossils are not forgeries.[5] In particular, the found the feathers on the Maxburg fossil continue underneath the bones - precluding the possibility of them being added to a reptile fossil, tiny fractures that could not have been seen at the time of Archaeopteryx's discovery matched in the plate and counter-plate and the 'blobs' cited by Hoyle are also have matching impressions on the counter plate (suggesting they weren't added). The evidence that Archaeopteryx is not a fraud is so strong that creationist site Answers in Genesis suggests creationists don't use this argument [6]

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[7] 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).

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[8]

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[9] Specimens such as the Thermoplis Specimen [10] 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.


There are currently only thirteen known specimens of Archaeopteryx.[11] All were allegedly found in the limestone of the Solnhofen area in Germany and have not been substantiated by any discovery anywhere else in the world.[12]

Image Specimen When found Location found People involved Current location Comments
ArchaeopterixFeather.jpg Feather[13] 1860 Near Solnhofen Described by H. von Meyer Humboldt Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin Single feather only.
ArchaeopteryxLondon.JPG London specimen[12][13] 1861 Near Langenaltheim Announced by H. v Meyer British Museum of Natural History, London Missing the head and neck; detailed feather impressions.
Archaeopteryx1.jpg Berlin specimen[12][13] 1877 Near Blumenberg Described by W. Dames Humboldt Museum für Naturkunde The most complete specimen
ArchaeopterixMaxberg.jpg Maxberg specimen[12][13] 1958 Near Langenaltheim Found and owned by Eduard Opitsch Maxberg Museum; currently lost or stolen Torso, wings, and feather impressions
ArchaeopterixHaarlem.jpg Haarlem Specimen[12][13] 1855 Near Riedenburg Described by H. von Meyer Teylers Museum, Haarlem Not classified as Archaeopteryx until 1970. Remains of wing claws and leg bones.
ArchaeopteryxEichstätt.jpg Eichstätt Specimen[12][13] 1951 Near Workerszell Described by Peter Wellnhofer Jura Museum, Eichstätt Smallest specimen
ArchaeopteryxSolenhofen.jpg Solnhofen Specimen[12][13] 1960s Near Eichstätt Described by Wellnhofer Bürgermeister-Müller-Museum in Solnhofen Nearly complete; no feather impressions.
ArchaeopterixMunich.jpg Munich specimen or Solnhofen-Aktien-Verein specimen[12][13] 1992 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
Archaeopteryx (Daiting Specimen).jpg Daiting specimen 1990 Near Daiting The youngest specimen
Archaeopteryx (Chicken Wing).jpg Bürgermeister-Müller specimen 2000 Bürgermeister-Müller Museum, Solnhofen Single wing only
ArchaeopterixThermopolis.jpg Thermopolis specimen[14][15] Described by Mayr, Pohl, and Peters Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, Wyoming Had been privately owned in Switzerland
Archaeopteryx lithographica - 11 specimen.jpg no name given yet[16] Currently studied by Paleontologists of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet.
no name given yet 2010 Near Altmannstein[17]


See also


  1. "Archaeopteryx is the oldest bird in the fossil record." - John Wells
  3. Sarfati, 2000
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 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.
  5. Charig et al. 1986. Archaeopteryx is not a forgery. Science 232: 622-626
  8. Feduccia, 1993
  9. "The tenth skeletal specimen of Archaeopteryx," Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 149:97-116, 2007.
  10. Wyoming Dinosaur Center.
  11. Wikipedia claims an eleventh specimen, but only lists ten.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 12.6 12.7 Magovern
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 13.7 Nedlin, 1999 (The TalkOrigins Archive)
  14. The Wyoming Dinosaur Center
  15. Hartman, 2005