Have other skeletons of Archaeopteryx been found?

Yes, other Archaeopteryx fossils have been discovered: a total of 11, so far. An almost complete skeleton was found in 1861 and was referred to as the London specimen. The fossil was the basis for a continuing debate between supporters and detractors of Charles Darwins then-newly published theory of evolution.

What are some of the Archaeopteryx fossils found to date?

There have been 11 actual specimens and many feathers found of the Archaeopteryx to date. Here is a list of nine discoveries made so far:

The Haarlem specimen was found near Reidenburg in 1855, five years before the feather was discovered. Because it was not known to be a fossil of an early bird, it was classified as a Pterodactylus crassipes, or pterodactyl (not even a dinosaur); in 1970, John Ostrom examined the fossil and found evidence of feathers, and thus, its true identity. It is currently at the Teylers Museum in Haarlem, the Netherlands.

The London specimen was found in 1861 near Langenaltheim. It was eventually bought by the British Museum of Natural History (under the instruction of Richard Owen) from Carl Haberlein.

The Berlin specimen was found in 1876 or 1877 near Blumenberg, and sported a complete head (although it was badly crushed). It is housed at the Humboldt Museum fur Naturkunde.

The Eichstatt specimen was found in 1951 or 1955, depending on sources, and is the smallest of all the Archaeopteryx lithographica, measuring about two- thirds the size of the other specimens; it also has the most well-preserved head found so far. It had a different tooth structure and its shoulder bones are not ossified as much as the other specimens, making many scientists believe this animal is an example of a different genus. Other scientists believe that the fossil represents a juvenile Archaeopteryx lithographica, or a species from an area with different food, thus the different structures. It is currently at the Jura Museum in Eichstatt, Germany.

The Maxburg specimen was found in 1958 near the same place as the London specimen in Langenaltheim. The fossil represents the animals torso only and is the only specimen to be privately owned. It was found by Eduard Opitsch, who died in 1991; after his death, the specimen was found to be missing, and is thought to have been secretly sold. Thus, the whereabouts of this specimen remains a mystery today.

The Solnhofen specimen was found in the 1960s near Eichstatt and was at first thought to be a Compsognathus. After preparing the specimen in the lab, scientists noticed that its arms were too long for its body size; they also found feathers, and so the creature joined the list of Archaeopteryx lithographica. It is currently at the Bürgermeister-Müller Museum in Solnhofen.

The Munich specimen (formerly the Solnhofen-Aktien-Verein specimen) of an Archaeopteryx has a small ossified sternum and feather impressions. Interestingly enough, it was found in 1991 and described in 1993; it is classified by some scientists as a new species: Archaeopteryx bavarica. It is currently at the Palaontologisches Museum in Munich.

The Bürgermeister-Müller specimen was uncovered in 1997. This fragmentary fossil is currently at the Bürgermeister-Müller Museum.

Finally, the Thermopolis specimen, long in a private collection, was discovered in Germany and described in 2005.

What has been discovered about Archaeopteryx lithographica fossil feathers?

Besides the actual specimens of the Archaeopteryx lithographica, many fossil feathers have been found. One of the first was discovered in 1860 near Solnhofen and described in 1861. It was also a surprise to scientists, not because it was old, but because of the feathers exquisite detail. So far, researchers believe that the Archaeopteryx had feathers almost all over its body, except the upper neck and head. This may be because the feathers were not easily preserved in the fossil, or there was some physical reason for the absence of feathers on specific parts of the body.

Did some scientists believe Archaeopteryx lithographica was a transition between dinosaurs and modern birds?

Yes, some scientists once believed Archaeopteryx was the transition between dinosaurs and modern birds, mainly because the fossilized skeletons exhibited a mixture of dinosaur- and bird-like features. The dinosaur (or reptilian) characteristics include such features as bony tails, teeth, and claws on the fingers; the bird-like characteristics include such features as feathers, wishbones, and beaks. Today, however, many scientists believe Archaeopteryx lithographica may have just been a link in dinosaur progression, eventually evolving into modern birds.

Widely believed to be one of the first ancestors of birds, the Archaeopteryx first appeared in the Jurassic period (iStock).

Does everyone believe Archaeopteryx was a link to dinosaurs?

No, not everyone believes Archaeopteryx was a direct link to the dinosaurs. Some scientists believe birds and dinosaurs evolved separately from a common reptilian ancestor, but so far, no one has yet found acceptable fossil evidence to support or disprove this idea.

What was the bird-like animal named?

The Confuciusornis sanctus, discovered in the northeast province of Liaoning, China, was a pigeon-sized, flying creature that may have appeared after the Archaeopteryx. (Its actual age is still debated, but it may be about 140 million years old, which is about 10 million years after versus the Archaeopteryx.) This animal had a horny, toothless beak. Before it was discovered, scientists thought toothless beaks did not appear until the Late Cretaceous period, about 70 million years ago. This creature also had feathers along its legs, making this (so far) the earliest known record of contour feathers on any animal.

 
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