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Archaeopteryx: The Bird
What Science Is Finally Seeing
By Jordan P. Niednagel
©TrueAuthority.com - 6/04
I'll freely confess, the debate is still contested. A number of evolutionists continue to hold onto their famed archaeopteryx like a spider on a June bug (don't ask), while a number of creationists continue to bash it like Barry Bonds on a baseball. Obviously, someone's right, and someone's wrong, and as with any piece of evidence, it can be interpreted one way or the other. Sadly, preconceived ideas give way to biased results, and biased results give way to fairytales. Archaeopteryx provides the prime setting for such bias to rear its ugly head, and admittedly, its difficult to avoid. It is, however, possible to take a fair and objective look at this supposed 'dinosaur to bird' link, and in the next few moments, I'll endeavor to do just that. If nothing else, you can enjoy emailing me afterwards to bash me for my own bias.
I'd like to start off by sharing a few quotes from evolutionists. This "argument from authority" is a much-hated tactic that creationists sometimes use, but alas, it reveals the truth that not all qualified scientists look at Archae (abbreviated for this article) in the same light. I'll start with ardent evolutionist Pierre Lecomte du Nouy:
"We are not even authorized to consider the exceptional case of archaeopteryx as a true link. By link, we mean a necessary stage of transition between classes such as reptiles and birds, or between smaller groups. An animal displaying characteristics belonging to two different groups cannot be treated as a true link as long as the intermediary stages have not been found, and as long as the mechanisms of transition remain unknown."
Human Destiny (New York: Longmaus, Green and Co., 1947), quoted in: Hank Hanegraaff, The Face That Demonstrates the Farce of Evolution (Nashville: Word, 1998), 37.
What's fascinating about this quote is how he starts it off. According to Nouy, we're not even allowed to consider whether Archae is a link or not, simply because other major fossil links, or stages, have not been discovered. Not only that, the process by which the entire feat was achieved is unknown. Truly, it's either with great audacity that he makes such assertions, or with great insight.
This article could seemingly stop now, with the conclusion that Archae shouldn't even be brought up because of the lack of intermediate fossils leading up to and following after it. I won't stop the article now, though, as that would be foolish.
This lack of intermediates dilemma is also echoed by Heiser Pough and McFarland in their text Vertebrate Life.
"No intermediate fossils link Archaeopteryx with any of the groups from which it might have evolved."
Vertebrate Life, 3rd ed. (New York: McMillan, 1989), pp. 468, 470.
Yet again, this concept is reiterated by Larry Martin, a paleontologist from the Univeristy of Kansas who said that the "archaeopteryx is not an ancestor of any modern birds; instead, it's a member of a totally extinct group of birds." (quoted in Icons of Evolution, Jonathan Wells, p. 116) Meaning, of course, that it is unique unto itself, although a bird nonetheless.
One of the most outspoken critics of dinosaur to bird evolution is Dr. Alan Feduccia, professor and former head of biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the author of the encyclopedic The Origin and Evolution of Birds (1999). Feduccia is a sincere evolutionist, and believes that the common ancestor of both ancient and modern bird orders was a small, ground-dwelling reptile that took to the trees for hiding, sleeping, or nesting. When it comes to Archae, however, he believes it was just one of nature's experiments. One of his most well-known quotes (and perhaps the most despised among many evolutionists) was that made in February of 1993.
"Paleontologists have tried to turn Archaeopteryx into an earth-bound, feathered dinosaur. But it's not. It is a bird, a perching bird. And no amount of ‘paleobabble’ is going to change that."
Archaeopteryx: Early Bird Catches a Can of Worms by V. Morell, Science 259(5096):764–65, 5 February 1993.
And yet again:
"Archaeopteryx probably cannot tell us much about the early origins of feathers and flight in true protobirds because Archaeopteryx was, in a modern sense, a bird."
Science 259:790-793 (1993).
In fact, the plot thickens beyond Archaeopteryx. In February of 2003, Discover magazine interviewed Feduccia, and touched upon the subject of feathered dinosaurs as a whole.
Discover: What about all the other evidence for feathered dinosaurs?
Feduccia: When we see actual feathers preserved on specimens, we need to carefully determine if we are looking at secondarily flightless birds that have retained feathers and only superficially resemble dinosaurs, or if the specimens are in fact related to dinosaurs. That’s a difficult issue to deal with right now, given the existence of fake fossils.
Discover: So far, only one feathered dinosaur, Archaeoraptor, has been publicly acknowledged as a forgery. You think there are others?
Feduccia: Archaeoraptor is just the tip of the iceberg. There are scores of fake fossils out there, and they have cast a dark shadow over the whole field. When you go to these fossil shows, it’s difficult to tell which ones are faked and which ones are not. I have heard that there is a fake-fossil factory in northeastern China, in Liaoning Province, near the deposits where many of these recent alleged feathered dinosaurs were found.
Journals like Nature don’t require specimens to be authenticated, and the specimens immediately end up back in China, so nobody can examine them. They may be miraculous discoveries, they may be missing links as they are claimed, but there is no way to authenticate any of this stuff.
Discover: Why would anyone fake a fossil?
Feduccia: Money. The Chinese fossil trade has become a big business. These fossil forgeries have been sold on the black market for years now, for huge sums of money. Anyone who can produce a good fake stands to profit.
Discover Dialogue: Ornithologist and Evolutionary Biologist Alan Feduccia Plucking Apart the Dino-Birds, Discover 24(2), February 2003.
These, definitely, are not light accusations. Although accusing no one in particular, Feduccia is putting his good name and credibility on the line by making such profound statements. Actually, he did specifically mention the prestigious journal Nature, saying how they "don't require specimens to be authenticated." Indeed, not a light accusation!
The Powered Flyer
The fossils of Archae were found in the Solnhofen Plattenkalk of Franconia, Bavaria. The sixth one discovered was nearly complete and very well preserved, with clear impressions of the feathered shafts of the left wing. In April of 1993, the seventh specimen was reportedly found, and was a remarkable find in that it possessed a bony sternum. The significance? Up till that point no sternum had been found in any previous Archae, and had lead paleontologists to conclude that it either could not fly or was a very bad flyer. The new discovery, however, clearly indicated that Archae would have been an excellent flyer, as the sternum is a structure of modern flying birds to which powerful flight muscles are attached. Some evolutionists today still wish to hold onto the idea that Archae could not fly or was a poor flyer, but the physical evidence strongly contradicts such a notion. Rayner had this to say in Biomechanics in Evolution (p. 194) regarding the feathers:
"The most striking feature of Archaeopteryx is its well-developed feathered wings. These wings are not significantly different in size and shape from those of modern birds such as magpies or coucals, and they give every indication that Archaeopteryx was a flying bird. The feathers also appear to be strong evidence of flight ability . . . . In Archaeopteryx the feathers are remarkably similar to those of modern birds. They have a stiffened central shaft to transmit aerodynamic forces generated over the feather vanes to the body, and this would not be expected if the feathers had no mechanical function. More significantly, the feather shaft is set asymmetrically against the vanes of the feather. This permits the feather to distort optimally to compensate for bending in flight due to aerodynamic loads, and is important in both gliding and flapping flight. . . vane asymmetry is characteristic of modern flying birds, but the feathers of most modern flightless birds are symmetrical."
There is truly no doubt that Archae was as capable of flight as today's modern flying birds are.
So what else about Archae leads these scientists, as well as a host of others, to conclude that it was a genuine bird? After all, doesn't it have claws, teeth, and a host of other reptilian-like feathers? First of all, just because an animal displays features that animals of another class or phyla feature does not make it a missing link, no more than the bizarre features of a duckbill platypus make it a link between mammals (fur) and birds (eggs and bill).
The fact that Archae had teeth is irrelevant. A number of extinct birds possessed teeth, while at the same time many reptiles of today do not have teeth. This is true of other vertebrates. Some fish have teeth, and some do not. Some amphibians have teeth, and some do not. Most mammals have teeth, but some do not. Some people have teeth, and some do not (forgive me ... I felt some comic relief was needed). Furthermore, Archae did not have reptile-like teeth, but teeth that were distinctively bird-like, similar to teeth found in a number of other fossil birds. Its teeth were unserrated with constricted bases and expanded roots, while theropod dinosaurs, from which it supposedly evolved from, had serrated teeth with straight roots. They also had different methods of tooth implantation and replacement. Martin, Stewart, and Whetstone point out some of these facts in their book, The Auk (p.86).
Archae possessed three wing claws, and dino to bird evolutionists enjoy pointing out this feature as being distinctly reptilian. However, there are a number of other modern day birds that possess claws. The touraco, an African bird, has claws on its wings, as does the hoatzin, a South American bird. Evolutionists, however, like to point out that they lose these claws when reaching adulthood. Very true, but they clearly reveal that claws are not distinctively reptilian. Furthermore, the ostrich possesses and keeps its claws on its wings throughout its life, as does the ibis and swan. But again, we must be reminded that physical characteristics which are shared among animals from separate classes or phyla does not prove a thing. The platypus, again, reminds us of this fact.
It has also been purported that Archae possessed claws similar to ground-dwelling birds rather than tree-dwelling birds. A strong motive behind this claim is to support the view that birds have evolved from ground-dwelling predators that in turn arose from coelurosaurian dinosaurs ... making Archae an integral piece to the desperately lacking puzzle. I have already shown that Archae was undoubtedly a more-than-capable flyer, a fact which most scientists today will agree with. But as further evidence, D.W. Yalden demonstrated back in the mid-80s that the claws of the manus (or forelimbs) were nearly identical to those of tree climbers. Furthermore, Fuduccia, yet again, established that the arc of the claws of Archae was like that of tree-dwellers (perching birds) after comparing them to those of ground-dwelling birds. His studies led him to make the quote previously shared above that Archae "is a bird, a perching bird...".
And lastly, Dr. David Menton, an Associate Professor of Anatomy at the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, Missouri, had this to say:
"Archaeopteryx, along with all perching birds, has what is called a grasping hallux, or hind toe, pointing backwards. Rearward-facing toes may be found in some of the dinosaurs but not a true grasping hallux with curved claws for perching."
Bird evolution flies out the window, http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs/1352.asp.
Without question, Archae possessed a bony tail. However, what does this prove? Does it prove it came from a reptile? Some reptiles today have long tails, while others have short tails. A long, bony tail isn't any more reptilian than a short, bony tail. Alan Feduccia again points out in reference to birds coming from dinosaurs:
‘It’s biophysically impossible to evolve flight from such large bipeds with foreshortened forelimbs and heavy, balancing tails."
Ann Gibbons, ‘New Feathered Fossil Brings Dinosaurs and Birds Closer’, Science 274:720–721, 1996.
In other words, the large, heavy tails of biped dinosaurs were not conducive for the evolution of flight. Regardless of Archae's tail, the entire process of how it could have happened in the first place is an unexplainable dream.
The general consensus now is that the brain of Archae was essentially that of a flying bird, with a large cerebellum and visual cortex. Also, with most vertebrates, including reptiles, the lower jaw (mandible jaw) moves, but with birds so does the upper jaw (maxilla jaw). Such is the case with Archae; both its lower jaw and upper jaw once moved like a bird's. Also, in the mid-80s when the cranium of the London specimen was studied, it was shown to be extremely bird-like. M.J. Benton stated that the "details of the brain case and associated bones at the back of the skull seem to suggest that Archaeopteryx is not the ancestral bird, but an offshoot from the early avian stem." M.J. Benton, Nature 305:99 (1983)
Perhaps the most significant evidence against the case for Archae is the fossil record itself. Feduccia explains it plainly and eloquently:
"There are insurmountable problems with that theory. Beyond what we have just reported, there is the time problem in that superficially bird-like dinosaurs occurred some 25 million to 80 million years after the earliest known bird, which is 150 million years old."
Hypography Sci-Tech, Study confirms birds not dinosaurs, http://www.hypography.com/article.cfm?id=32555, 8/21/02.
No credible scientist argues this point. Dinosaurs with seemingly bird-like characteristics appear, according to the evolutionary timescale, some 25 to 80 million years after the earliest known actual bird. In other words, Archae's grandfather was a bird!
This article could have been much longer. The debate over Archae will continue, and yet more than ever are scientists beginning to agree that it played no role in the evolution of dinosaurs to birds. I have attempted to explain the dilemma as clearly and concisely as possible, and I hope the reader was enlightened to at least some new facts and ideas. If so, drop me a note. I always appreciate feedback from you.
1. In The News, Biology 130 - Biodiversity, <http://eeb.bio.utk.edu/riechert/default.html>.
2. Duane T. Gish, Evolution: The Fossils Still Say No!, Institute For Creation Research, p. 130-141, 1995.
3. Jonathan Sarfati, Ph.D., Evolution: Refuting Evolution 2, Master Books, p. 130-134, 2002.
4. Lee Strobel, The Case For A Creator, Zondervan, p. 55-60, 2004.
Available online at www.trueauthority.com/cvse/archaeopteryx.htm