A feather is just a feather — unless it has been estimated to be 150 million years old!
This feather has been the center of a controversial debate ever since it was uncovered over a century and a half ago. Does it belong to an Archaeopteryx lithographica, a bird-dinosaur?
New analysis and research by a team of archaeologists may have finally settled that debate. According to the study published in a journal called Scientific Reports, the fossil is indeed an Archaeopteryx feather.
What exactly was an Archaeopteryx?
In short, the Archaeopteryx lithographica was a crow-sized feathered dinosaur. It had a combination of dinosaur characteristics (like sharp teeth) and bird features (like wings and hollowed bones) makes it a likely ancestor of modern-day birds. Thus, it served as a missing link between dinosaurs and birds.
However, when the fossilized feather was first unearthed from German soil back in 1861, the archaeologists didn’t find any skeleton to go along with the amazingly preserved fossil — hence, the debate on the true origins of the feather.
While the debate had been going on for decades, one particular study in 2019 claimed the feather did not belong to an Archaeopteryx. So, paleontologist Dr. Ryan Carney and his team of researchers repeated the 2019 study and drew very different results. Carney and his colleagues found the feather’s shape was not only similar to that of other confirmed Archaeopteryx feathers but also fit perfectly into the structure of an Archaeopteryx wing fossil. In addition, the study reported that the feather was found less than 1.5 miles from four other Archaeopteryx fossils.
Has this new study successfully settled the historic debate? The authors from the 2019 study recently reported that they are already drafting a response — so the argument might not be over yet!