British scientists have decided that the fossil Archaeopteryx is not, after all, the ‘missing link’ between reptiles and birds but was a fully developed bird. The conclusions (published in the scientific journal Nature and reported in the Times on 5 August) stem from a new examination of the creature’s skull.
Using the latest computer tomography techniques, palaeontologists from the Natural History Museum in London ‘reconstructed’ the part of the skull that held the fossil’s brain, ears and eyes.
They found that the size and shape of these organs were very similar to those in modern birds and concluded that Archaeopteryx possessed all the faculties necessary for flight. It could not therefore be an evolutionary link between birds and their supposed precursors.
As recently as 1982, Harvard biologist Ernst Mayr declared that Archaeopteryx was ‘the almost perfect [evolutionary] link between reptiles and birds’. Creationists pointed out repeatedly that the resemblance to dinosaurs is superficial and the fully developed flight feathers show the fossil to be that of a bird.
But their protests were ridiculed and for over a century Archaeopteryx has been a key icon of evolutionary theory, used to ‘prove’ evolution in text books and the media.
Although the new work sets back the popular idea that birds evolved from dinosaurs, it is unlikely to dampen enthusiasm for the theory among evolutionists. This theory has gained publicity recently from fossil ‘discoveries’ appearing to show that some dinosaurs had rudimentary feathers. In his book Icons of Evolution (Regnery Publishing Inc., 2000) Jonathan Wells gives several examples.
In 1993 a fossil was discovered in Montana and named Bambiraptor. It was presented in drawings as having hair-like projections and feathers on its forelimbs. However, it emerged that these embellishments were not present in the fossil itself but only in the imagination of the palaeontologists
In 1997 the US National Geographic Society announced that a fossil purchased at an Arizona mineral show was ‘the missing link between terrestrial dinosaurs and birds that could actually fly’. However, the fossil turned out to be a forgery.
Two years later National Geographic magazine published a drawing of a baby tyrannosaurus with feathers – but admitted that the feathers were a figment of the artist’s imagination.
They will no doubt keep on trying!