"Since its first discovery in the 1860s, Archaeopteryx has been the object of many debates in relation to bird evolution," said paleontologist Oliver Rauhut
In a study published in the journal Nature
on Wednesday, researchers described the discovery of a near perfect fossil of Archaeopteryx, the "original bird."
© R. Liebreich/Bavarian State Collection for Paleontology and Geology
An artist's reconstruction of Archaeopteryx.
Though the Archaeopteryx had previously been fingered by paleontologists as the first bird to fly, the inconsistent nature of the fossil record made it difficult for scientists to confirm that the ancient creature could indeed take to the air.
But the latest Archaeopteryx fossil, unearthed in 2011, was preserved in fine-grain limestone after succumbing to fate in an ancient lagoon in modern day Bavaria, a region of southern Germany -- thus revealing the bird's full plumage in remarkable detail. The details confirm a lightweight suit (including a strange pair of "feather trousers" on the legs) likely capable of lifting Archaeopteryx skyward, researchers say.
"Since its first discovery in the 1860s, Archaeopteryx has been the object of many debates in relation to bird evolution, especially flight and feather evolution," explained study co-author Oliver Rauhut
, a paleontologist at the Bavarian State Collection for Paleontology and Geology in Munich. "There were debates if it was ground-dwelling or arboreal, if it could fly or not."
Archaeopteryx lived 150 million years ago, and though its not the only ancient bird to sport plumage, it is one of the first that used their feathers to take to the air.
The new fossil further informs the evolution of ancient bird feathers.