In the nearly 160 years since its discovery, Archaeopteryx has become known as the “missing link” between dinosaurs and birds. This feathered beast of the Late Jurassic lived some 150 million years ago and occupied the territory that is now southern Germany.
Part of a genus of bird-like dinosaurs, Archaeopteryx represents the transition from feathered non-avian dinosaurs to modern birds. The name itself translates as “ancient wing,” suggesting that Archaeopteryx is the oldest creature to sport bird-like characteristics.
Only 12 Archaeopteryx specimens exist in the fossil record — all of them unearthed from a few quarries near the Bavarian town of Solnhofen in southern Germany, notes the National Museum Wales.
Almost all of these fossils were retrieved from a limestone outcrop known as the Solnhofen Formation — with the exception of one specimen. Dubbed the “Daiting specimen,” or “specimen number eight,” this fossil was dug up from a younger geological deposit called the Mörnsheim Formation and actually postdates the other fossils by roughly half a million years.
This particular specimen is intriguing not only due to its younger age but also because it possesses very distinct features from the rest of the Archaeopteryx fossils.
While the other skeletons — generally thought to belong to one species, Archaeopteryx lithographica — have more in common with dinosaurs than with flying birds, this eighth specimen is actually closer to modern birds in evolutionary terms, reports Science Daily.