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No. 39: May-Jun 1985

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Status of archaeopteryx up in the air!

That famous missing link, Archaeopteryx, the flying reptile, continues to make headlines. The major argument at the 1984 International Archaeopteryx Conference, in Eichstaett, was about whether Archaeopteryx could fly at all, despite its advanced, aerodynamically shaped feathers. It certainly could not have flown well since it lacks the supracoracoideus pulley-system that acts as a wing elevator in birds. Archaeopteryx could not have raised its wings above the horizontal, making it a poor flier at best. It also lacked the birds' keel bone to which the wing muscles are anchored. But those exquisitely designed feathers, so modern in appearance, tilted the scales. The consensus of the Conference was that Archaeopteryx could indeed fly.

(Howgate, Michael E.; "Back to the Trees for Archaeopteryx in Bavaria," Nature, 313:435, 1985.)

The really interesting part of the continuing Archaeopteryx saga comes from the recent charge of Fred Hoyle and others that the Archaeopteryx fossil is an outright forgery. Hoyle et al insist that Archaeopteryx could not have flown at all, given its bones and musculature. Archaeopteryx looks like a reptile and was a reptile. As for the modern-looking feathers, they were probably added to the fossil fraudulently. And there do seem to be parts of the fossils on display in London and East Berlin that look highly suspicious. Conventional paleontologists are, of course, aghast that anyone would question the validity of these key transition fossils.

(Vines, Gail; "Strange Case of Archaeopteryx 'Fraud'," New Scientist, p. 3, 1985.)

Comment. A wonderful tempest seems to be brewing. Could Archaeopteryx be another Piltdown Man? To put the matter in proper context, we must remember that Archaeopteryx is in all the evolution books along side the family tree of the horse. It is an emotional issue. On the other hand, Fred Hoyle seems equally convinced that evolution is statistically impossible, and an Archaeopteryx fraud would fit well with his predispositions.

From Science Frontiers #39, MAY-JUN 1985. 1985-2000 William R. Corliss