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an archaeopterygid maniraptoran dinosaur from the Late Jurassic of Europe.
Pronunciation: AHR-kee-OP-tuh-rix
Meaning: Ancient Wing
Author/s: von Meyer (1861)
Synonyms: See below
First Discovery: Solnhofen, Germany
Chart Position: 16

Archaeopteryx lithographica

When Charles Darwin published "On the Origin of Species" in 1859 an outraged public demanded evidence to back-up his ludicrous claims when—BANG!—a slab of split Solfholfen sandstone landed on Sir Richard Owen's desk in exchange for the princely sum of seven hundred English pounds, and inside was Archaeopteryx; a fossil caught in the act of evolution.

Sharp teeth, clawed, three fingered hands, long stiff tail and other bipedal theropod dinosaur features were obvious, but tunnel-visioned Owen was unmoved. He unequivocally declared it a bird because of its wishbone and a clear impression of long, flowing feathers, and enough arm and breast muscle attachment points to suggest it was capable of flap-powered flight.

The earliest definate example of what we now know as Archaeopteryx was originally named Pterodactylus crassipes by von meyer (1857) and was, for years, simply referred to as Urvogel - a German term meaning "first bird". It was reclassified as Archaeopteryx crassipes by John Ostrom in 1970 but had its name supressed in favor of Archaeopteryx lithographica in 1977 by the ICZN which only adds to a long list of naming issues.

The crow-sized Archaeopteryx is known from a dozen or so skeletons, all from Bavarian quarries within a radius of about 15 miles, that have managed to get themselves associated with at least two dozen critters. Many are "forgotten" names, others simply spelling mistakes and more still uneccesary ammendations of said spelling mistakes. Archaeopteryx siemensii (Dames, 1897), Archaeopteryx recurva (Howgate, 1984) and Archaeopteryx bavarica (Wellnhofer, 1993) continue to hang around and may represent valid species, and a couple more - Wellnhoferia grandis (Elzanowski, 2001) and Jurapteryx recurva (Howgate, 1985) are trying to break out into valid genera... or break back in depending on which paleontologist you follow.

Naming fiasco's aside, Archy has been the centre of much brouha'ing but always comes out with its head held high. It was accused of being a chimera but the antagonists (an astronomer and a physicist!) were never taken seriously, it was shifted to Deinonychosauria along with the newly discovered Xiaotingia in 2011 based on a character matrix that was missing two critical updates, and despite Chatterjee's attempts to trump it with a hotch-potch of poorly preserved bones from hither and thither in 1991 (see Protoavis), Archaeopteryx still holds the title of earliest known ancestor of birds. The early bird normally gets the worm, but in this case it gets the glory.
Archaeopteryx is derived from the Greek "arkhaios" (ancient) and "pteryx"' (wing).
The species epithet, lithographica, refers to the lithographic limestone in which it was buried.
All but one proposed Archaeopteryx specimens hail from limestone quarries in the vicinity of Solnhofen, Germany, which during the Jurassic period was covered by a warm, shallow lagoon with a soft muddy bottom that has proven ideal for preserving ancient fossils.
The original holotype is a single feather (described by Christian Erich Hermann von Meyer, and later misspelled Archaeopterix with an "i" instead on a "y") which may have been enough to anchor a genus back in 1861, but not since the discovery of other, plumed "early birds".
In 2007 scientists Bock and Bühler proposed BMNH 37001 (the "London specimen") — representing the first skeletal Archaeopteryx to be discovered — be installed as the name-bearing specimen, and it was designated as neotype by the ICZN on October 3, 2011.
The feather may not even belong to Archaeopteryx. The following twelve specimens apparently do, though a couple may represent distinct critters in their own right.
"The London Specimen" (BMNH 37001) was found in 1861 near Langenaltheim, Germany, and perhaps given to a local physician Karl Häberlein in return for medical services. We're not sure what services he offered but we're willing to bet they didn't ammount to the £700 he received when he sold it on to London's Natural History Museum. Owen published this specimen as Archeopteryx macrurus in 1863, then Petronievics named it Archaeopteryx oweni in 1917. Both names are uneccessary and invalid.
"The Berlin Specimen"(HMN 1880) was found in 1877 on the Blumenberg near Eichstätt, Germany, by farmer Jakob Niemeyer who sold it to buy a cow. In 1897 Dames named this specimen Archaeopteryx siemensii which may (or may not) be a valid species. In 1917 Petronievics erroneously renamed it Archaeornis.
"The Maxberg Specimen" (S5) was discovered in 1956 near Langenaltheim.
"The Haarlem Specimen" (TM 6428, also known as the Teyler Specimen) was discovered in 1855 near Riedenburg, Germany, and initially described as a Pterodactylus crassipes in 1857 by von Meyer.
"The Eichstätt Specimen" (JM 2257), discovered in 1951 near Workerszell, Germany and described by Peter Wellnhofer in 1974, is the smallest known specimen of Archaeopteryx and may be a separate genus; Jurapteryx recurva.
"The Solnhofen Specimen" (BSP 1999) was discovered in the 1970s near Eichstätt, Germany, and described in 1988 by Peter Wellnhofer. It was originally assigned to Compsognathus by Friedrich Müller, and while it may actually be the largest known specimen of Archaeopteryx it was renamed Wellnhoferia grandis in honor of Welnhofer by Andrzej Elżanowski in 2001 due to distinct features of its tail and toes.
"The Munich Specimen" (S6, formerly known as the Solenhofer-Aktien-Verein Specimen), discovered on 3 August 1992 near Langenaltheim and described in 1993 by by Wellnhofer, was sold to the Paläontologisches Museum München in Munich for 1.9 million Deutschmark in 1999. It has been mooted as a distinct species (Archaeopteryx bavarica) but it may belong to Archaeopteryx siemensii, if the latter is indeed a distinct species.
"The Daiting Specimen" was found in 1990 but had only been seen briefly in the form of a cast until the original showed up at the 2009 Munich Mineral Show. After this it disappeared again, hence its nickname-- the Phantom. Discovered in a limestone bed that was a few hundred thousand years younger than the other finds, this may be a new specimen of Archaeopteryx.
"The Bürgermeister-Müller Specimen", affectionately known as "chicken wing" because, well, its remains ammount to a single wing fossil, was found in 2000 and though privately owned has been on loan to the Bürgermeister-Müller Museum in Solenhofen since 2004.
"The Thermopolis Specimen" (WDC CSG 100) was discovered in Bavaria and described December 2, 2005 by Mayr, Pohl, and Peters, after being donated to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, Wyoming. It was assigned to Archaeopteryx siemensii in 2007.
Two more specimens are known, one of which is in the hands of a reclusive collector and has yet to be subjected to scientific scrutiny, therefore it remains nameless. The other was found by amateur collectors at the Schamhaupten quarry in 2010 and has yet to be described.
Era: Mesozoic
Epoch: Late Jurassic
Stage: Tithonian
Age range: 151-145 mya
Est. max. length: 0.4 meters
Est. max. hip height: 0.2 meters
Est. max. weight: 2 Kg
Diet: Carnivore
Griphosaurus problematicus (Wagner, 1862)
Griphornis longicaudatus (Woodward, 1862)
Archaeornis siemensii (Dames, 1897)
Archaeopteryx owenii (Petronievics, 1917)
Archaeopteryx crassipes (Ostrom, 1972)
Possible synonyms
Jurapteryx recurva? (Howgate, 1985)
Wellnhoferia grandis? (Elzanowski, 2001)
• H. von Meyer (1861) "Archaeopteryx litographica (Vogel-Feder) und Pterodactylus von Solenhofen.
• R. Owen (1863) "On the Archaeopteryx of Von Meyer, with a description of the fossil remains of a long-tailed species from the lithographic stone of Solnhofen".
• ICZN (1961) "Opinion 607, Archaeopteryx VON MEYER, 1861 (Aves); Addition to the Official list". Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature 18 (4): 260-261.
• ICZN (1977) "Opinion 1070. Conservation of Archaeopteryx lithographica VON MEYER 1861 (Aves)". Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature 33: 165-166.
• D. B. Weishampel and N. M. White (2003) "The Dinosaur Papers (1676-1906)".
• Peter Wellnhofer (2009) "ARCHAEOPTERYX: The Icon of Evolution".
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To cite this page:
Atkinson, L. "ARCHAEOPTERYX :: from DinoChecker's dinosaur archive".
›. Web access: 25th Mar 2017.