Archaeopteryx has long been hailed as a “missing link” between birds and dinosaurs. After a recent analysis of a different fossilized creature, however, Chinese researchers concluded that Archaeopteryx was not the first bird to have evolved, but was instead more like a dinosaur. This new categorization aptly illustrates the unreliability of evolutionary tree analyses.
Archaeopteryx had unique features that distinguish it from most modern birds, including teeth in its beak and a long, narrow tail. But it had core features that define birds, such as flight feathers, wings, perching feet, and a wishbone.
Based on these characteristics, scientists have referred to Archaeopteryx as a bird and not a reptile since the late 19th century. One popular book on birds stated that it was an “early bird” from which modern birds later evolved.1 Of course, science has not shown that it evolved from any reptile, or that it evolved into today’s birds.2 It had no transitional features like half scale/half feather structures, but instead possessed fully formed flight feathers just like modern flying or gliding birds.
John Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research, wrote in his 2010 book, The Fossil Record, “It is not enough that Archaeopteryx has some skeletal features in common with reptiles, for so does every bird or mammal alive today. Does this imply relatedness?”3
So what prompted Archaeopteryx‘s being reassigned from the bird group to a mostly dinosaur grouping? Oddly enough, it happened after a research team reviewed a new fossil found in China— Xiaotingia zhengi—and formulated an evolutionary tree that factored in the new fossil’s characteristics. The methods used to manufacture such phylogenetic trees, which show proposed evolutionary relationships, are notoriously subjective, so it’s no surprise that the new tree portrayed something quite different from those manufactured by other scientists.4
The Chinese authors published their results in Nature, saying that their analysis of characteristic traits placed Archaeopteryx “within the Deinonychosauria,” even though “Archaeopteryx is placed within the Avialae by nearly all numerical phylogenetic analyses.”5 In other words, these authors’ results went against the consensus and moved Archaeopteryxfrom a category that included extinct birds to a separate category that included an even more evolution-inspired mixture of mostly dinosaurs with some extinct birds added in….
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