Dino Had the Right Stuff

New Study Settles 140-Year-Old Dispute Over Fossil

An artist's impression of the oldest known bird, Archaeopteryx. Until know, researchers were unsure if the bird could fly. A new study of a fossilized brain cavity suggests it was well-equipped to fly. John Sibbick/NMH hide caption

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itoggle caption John Sibbick/NMH

One of London's Natural History Museum's greatest treasures, a 147-million-year-old Archaeopteryx fossil. Natural History Museum hide caption

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itoggle caption Natural History Museum
An artist's impression of  the oldest known bird, Archaeopteryx.

An artist's impression of the oldest known bird, Archaeopteryx. John Sibbick/NMH hide caption

itoggle caption John Sibbick/NMH

When the fossilized remains of a 147-million-year-old creature were pulled out of German limestone mine in 1861, scientists hailed them as a missing link between birds and dinosaurs. Archaeopteryx was a small, meat-eating animal with dinosaur-like teeth and clawed hands, but it had the feathered wings of a bird. A fight over whether the creature could fly has raged ever since.

Now, a new paper in Nature may have ended the argument. Researchers with London's Natural History Museum and the University of Texas at Austin used CT scans of the fossil to reconstruct the anatomy of its brain. They report its brain closely resembled that of modern-day sparrows and was well developed for flight. NPR's John Nielsen reports.

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