Who owned the oldest surviving feather?

(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists believe that the oldest feather found by paleontologists may have “lost” Archeopteryx.

The oldest fossil feather was found in 1862 in southern Germany. Scientists have long associated the find with the late Jurassic dinosaur Archeopteryx, but in 2019 a team of researchers stated that the fossil did not belong to Archeopteryx, but to another completely unknown dinosaur species.

A new study by a group of scientists led by Ryan Carney of the University of South Florida (USF) has determined that the feather found is still in the form of the primary feathers of Archaeopteryx. What’s more, one was found in the same place as the other important finds: four skeletons of this dinosaur.

“The alternative taxonomic hypothesis of the [2019] study is a hypothetical undescribed dinosaur. This position avoids the burden of proof and cannot be refuted,” the researchers write.

The researchers found that the upper wing surface of Archeopteryx has feathers that are identical in size and shape to the feather being studied. Using a specialized electron microscope, the scientists determined that the feather was on the left wing of Archeopteryx. They also discovered melanosomes – microscopic pigment structures that indicated that the feather was once completely black.

“For the past 159 years, there has been a debate over whether this feather belongs to the same animal as the skeletons of Archeopteryx, where it came from and its original color. Thanks to scientific detective work that combines new methods with old fossils and scientific sources, we are finally able to unravel these centuries-old mysteries.” – Ryan Carney

While most new research on this feather considers the question of its owner to be settled, over the course of 158 years we continue to learn more about the Archaeopteryx fossils, including the different shapes, colors and functions of their feathers.

The isolated nature of this feather means we may never know exactly who it belonged to, but USF researchers are convinced that Archeopteryx is its most likely host.


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