The fossilized bird known as Archaeopteryx has had quite a history of identity crises. Researchers once classified it as a “missing link” between dinosaurs and birds. It was considered to be an ancient bird, then changed to a dinosaur, and now it’s supposed to be a bird again. So, what is it?

Nature News reported in July that an analysis of fossil traits “suggests that Archaeopteryx is not a bird at all,” but instead more closely resembled dinosaurs.1 ICR News responded at the time that because “it had core features that define birds, such as flight feathers, wings, perching feet, and a wishbone… Archaeopteryx is still just an extinct bird.”2

Textbooks and museums still teach that Archaeopteryx is an evolutionary transition from reptiles. But even if its classification waffles again, it is disqualified as an evolutionary ancestor for birds by the fact that scientists found a crow-size bird and extinct four-winged birds in rock layers designated to be below those containing Archaeopteryx.3,4

A team of Australian scientists recently performed another trait analysis, but this one included more body features and slightly different underlying assumptions than the previous study. Publishing in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters, the researchers wrote that Archaeopteryx‘s assignment to a dinosaur group earlier this year “was acknowledged to be weakly supported.”5

They constructed new cladograms that pictured Archaeopteryx with birds, and not with any dinosaurs, with a caption that reads, “Archaeopteryx robustly reinstated as the most basal bird.”5

After generations of experts had concurred that it was a bird, why would one group suggest that Archaeopteryx should be reclassified as some kind of a dinosaur? And why would another group, using similar techniques, pull the plug on that assessment so soon afterward? After all, they both have access to the same data….

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