ARCHAEOPTERYX Part 1
Are the features of the archaeopteryx so overwhelmingly and/or convincingly reptilian as to lead necessarily to the conclusion it is a transition between the bird and the reptile? And if the bone structure was very similar would the natural conclusion still be that the archaeopteryx is a transition?
“The Neck of the Giraffe: Where Darwin Went Wrong” Francis Hitching 1982 pp34-36
Fortuitously for Darwin and his theory, it seemed, Archaeopteryx was discovered in limestone rocks in Bavaria in 1860 less than two years after The Origin of Species was published. First, the outline of a feather was seen, giving rise to its name, which means simply ‘ancient bird’. A year later, in a nearby quarry, an almost complete skeleton was found, its wings outstretched, with a clear imprint of feathers on them.
Its importance, then and now, was that Archaeopteryx appeared in the same strata as dinosaur fossils, and appeared at first sight almost as much a reptile as a bird-‘a providentially timed confirmation of Darwin’s proposition that one group of animals developed into another by way of intermediate forms’, it was
recently suggested. Biologists as a whole regard it as authoritative evidence of Darwinian evolution at work. ‘It proved beyond any argument’ that there existed an animal with both reptilian and bird features, according to one account ‘even today, there is no more convincing example’ of a transitionary link, says
But is the case for Archaeopteryx quite so unambiguous as these claims make out? Apparently not. Everyone of its supposed reptilian features can be found in various species of undoubted birds.
1. “It had a long bony tail, like a reptile’s on which feathers grew.” While it is generally true that reptiles have tails, and birds appear not to, the detailed position is more complex. In embryo, some living birds have more tail vertebrae than Archaeopteryx does, which later fuse to become an upstanding pygostyle. The bone and feather arrangement on a present day swan shows striking similarities to Archaeopteryx. According to one authority, there is no difference in principle between the ancient and modern forms: ‘the difference lies only in the fact that the caudal vertebrae are greatly prolonged. But this does not make a
2. “It had claws on its feet and on its feathered forelimbs.” But so do some modern birds, such as the hoatzin in South America and the touraco in Africa. The ostrich of today, which also has three claws on its wings, has been suggested by some experts to have more reptilian features than the Archaeopteryx- but nobody, of course, considers the ostrich to be a transitional form.
3. “It had bony jaws lined with teeth.” Modern birds do not have teeth. But many ancient birds did, particularly those in the Mesozoic, and there is no suggestion that these are intermediates. It is just as convincing to argue that archaeopteryx was an early bird with teeth.
4. “It had a shallow breastbone that would have given it a feeble wing beat and poor flight.” Modern woodcreepers such as the hoatzin have similarly shallow breastbones, and this does not disqualify them from being classified as birds. And there are, of course, many species of bird, now and in the past, which are incapable of flight.
In any case, recent examination of archaeopteryx’s feathers at the Smithsonian Institution has shown that they are the same as those belonging to many modern accomplished fliers. ‘This implies at the very least that the beast could glide at some speed and lays to rest the notion that the feathers evolved as either heat
insulation or as an aid to trapping insects.’
5. “Its bones were solid, not thin or hollow, like a birds.” Another idea that has been drastically revised. The long bones of archaeopteryx (wings, legs) are known now to have been both thin AND hollow.[We both agree here- G.F.] It is still debated whether they were ‘pneumatized’ like a bird’s, i.e. containing an air sac.
6. “It predates the general arrival of birds by sixty million years” Until 1977, archaeopteryx was uniquely early in the fossil record. But in that year, archaeologists from Brigham Young University discovered, in western Colorado, a fossil of an unequivocal bird, in rocks of the same period as archaeopteryx. Professor John Ostrom of Yale University, who positively identified the specimen, commented: “It is obvious we must now look for the ancestors of flying birds in a period of time much earlier than that in which archaeopteryx lived.’
This discovery much weakens the case for archaeopteryx as an intermediate, and makes it that much more likely that the creature was just one of a number of strange birds living at that time. Professor Heribert-Nilsson commented forcefully that ‘they are no more reptiles than the present day penguins with their wing-fins are transitional forms to fish’.
The further point might be made that even if archaeopteryx is in fact a half-way form from reptiles to birds, it is still not very enlightening about the process of evolution, nor in any way evidence of Darwin’s hoped for gradual transitions. For that, we would have to see in the fossil record the slow development of feathers
(perhaps from scales, perhaps from some other origin) and the hierarchical change of amphibian dinosaurs into delicate, light-boned creatures that could soar above the Earth. And here, characteristically, the rocks are mute.
“Evolution: The Challenge of the Fossil Record” by Dr. Duane Gish copyright 1985 page 110
In Dr. Gish’s book he has put together an excellent analysis of the Archaeopteryx:
In reference to Archaeopteryx, Ichthyornis, and Hesperornis, Beddard stated: “So emphatically were all these creatures birds that the actual origin of Aves is barely hinted at in the structure of these remarkable
remains.” During the eightyfive years since the publication of Beddard’s book, no better candidate as as intermediate between the reptiles and birds than the Archaeopteryx has appeared. Not a single intermediate with part-way wings or partway feathers has been discovered. Perhaps this is why, with the passage of time, Archaeopteryx, some evolutionists today not only assert that the bird is undoubtedly linked to reptiles but that if clear impressions of feathers had not been found, Archaeopteryx, would have been classified as a reptile. This is a gross overstatement, to say the least.
“Evolution: A Theory in Crisis” by Dr. Micahel Denton.
Page 176: No doubt it can be argued that Archaeopteryx hints of a reptilian ancestry but surely hints do not provide a sufficient basis upon which to secure the concept of the continuity of nature. Moreover, there is no question that this archaic bird is not led up by a series of transitional forms from an ordinary terrestrial reptile through a number of gliding types with increasingly developed feathers until the avian condition is reached.
“Adam and Evolution” By Professor Michael Pitman copyright 1984
pg 221 Although no fossils lead up to or away from it, Archaeopteryx is often paraded as THE link fossil. there are five specimens of this bird from Solnhofen limestone in Germany. Usually shown in textbooks is the Berlin specimen. It has birdlike features in the form of wings, beak, sclerotic eye-rings, fusion of the upper footbone into an extra section of the limb, an opposable hind claw and, of course, feathers. reptilian
features include teeth in the bill, claws on the wings and a long bony feathered tail.
Are these features so reptilian? Just as the pteranadon is seen as a distinct, extinct type of reptile, so the creationist regards the Archaeopteryx as a distinct type of bird. He argues that the ‘reptilian features’ fall within the sphere of variability of a bird. We ourselves have arm-bones similar to those of a bird, a whale and a bat, but are distinct from these types…
…In the earliest known fossils of pterodactyls, bats and winged insects, the instrument of flight is fully developed. Just so, the wings and feathers of Archaeopteryx are as perfect as in modern birds. Assymetric flight feathers resemble those of strong fliers; tailfeather arrangement parallels that found in modern swans and hens. It is a moot point just how good or bad at flying the Archaeopteryx was. There are
living flightless birds, such as the kiwi, with very small breastbones, and not much keel (on to which the flight muscles are attached). Indeed, many birds ‘have wings, won’t fly’; these include emus, cassowaries,
rheas, swimming birds (penguins), ostriches, extinct dodos, and moas.
…You can see why it is argued that the Archaeopteryx falls within the sphere of a variation of a bird. The bony tail? this is a distinctive feature and the Archaeopteryx is , in fact, classified in a sub-class all its own. In the embryo some living birds have more tail vertebrae that ‘archy’, which later fuse to become an upstanding pygostyle. It is certainly a permutation on the usual tail-end subroutine for birds, but so are its vertebrae, which have no saddle-shaped articulations. This ‘reptilian’ feature is also found in cormorants, darters, gulls and certain parrots.
The free (unfused) foot-bones and wrist bones, found in archaeopteryx, are also found outside of reptiles- in penguins. Indeed, archaeopteryx had perching feet…
What about the teeth? No living birds have socked teeth but some fossil ones did. Some reptiles have teeth, some have not. The same applies to fishes, amphibia and mammals…
In most modern birds, but not archaeopteryx, the plan for the fibula and tibia legbones is modified, developmentally, so that the fibula is much reduced and the result is a single structure- the tibia with ankle
bones fused to it and the ‘vestigial’ fibula along side it- which articulates the footbones. Developmental manipulation of chick embryos by Frenchman Armand Hampe’ ‘allowed’ the fibula to attain the same length as the tibia- as it normally does in vertebrates; articulation with the ankle bones changed accordingly. Where the evolutionist sees Hempe’s results as an expression of ancestral relationship in leg-bones, the creationist sees it as a modification, suitable for most birds, in the vertebrate program.
A similar interpretation applies to wing claws. In most modern birds they are suppressed but the young ostrich, rhea and the touraco of Africa have them. So do young South American Hoatzin, a bird which
shares a number of features with the Archaeopteryx. It leaps, flaps and dives about wood rivers and swamps of the Amazon valley today.
Archaeopteryx could represent a group of distinct organisms that showed the characteristics of bird and reptile. No other fossils lead either to or from it…. Links are not links if they are mosaics of complete functional traits from other groups. whales and seals have a mixture of fish and mammal traits, penguins have fin-shaped wings and bats are a mixture of bird and mammal but no one calls them intermediate.
No doubt Archaeopteryx is an odd mixture of subroutines but so are many other creatures.
Because bird types are found from the early Cenozoic, it seems only a matter of time before they are found in the Cretaceous or Jurassic beds. Already Cretaceous Icthyornis shows signs of having been a tern:
and in 1977 ‘Dinosaur Jim’ Jensen found an avian femur and two connected shoulder bones in Jurrassic rocks, where he had previously excavated his dinosaurs in Western Colorado. The splendid isolation of the
Archaeopteryx was relieved by a bird which predated it.