Although it may seem simple, the fossils of the feather-winged dinosaur, which are mainly found in Germany, do not abandon their secrets so easily. The bones are preserved in limestone slabs, and the attempt to eliminate them for further analysis would damage them. These fossils are some of the most valuable in the world, according to the researchers.
Scientists know that birds evolved from dinosaurs, and Archeopteryx is part of that evolutionary path. Archeopteryx preceded the oldest bird in 75 million years. And as we know when looking at modern birds like penguins and ostriches, the fact that they have wings does not mean they can fly. The same could be said of Archeopteryx, which has raised questions about whether it was a non-flying land dweller, a glider or an aviator.
Because their fossils are well studied, researchers knew that if Archeopteryx could fly, it was not comparable to how birds do, since it had a primitive shoulder structure that would not support descending power and recovery wings. ascending that modern birds use.
Of course, the movement of the flight does not become fossilized, and the flight pattern of Archeopteryx can no longer be studied in a living animal, which makes determining the flight style even more difficult, wrote the Lead author of the Dennis Voeten study in an email. Voeten works with the European Synchrotron Radiation Fund and is a PhD candidate at the Palacký University in the Czech Republic.
But X-rays revealed new findings in the bones of the Archeopteryx arm.
"It was surprising to see that the geometry of the Archeopteryx wing looks much more like modern birds than expected.The variation within modern flying birds is much greater than the differences between Archeopteryx and short flight birds in our data set, "Voeten said. "Although the anatomy of Archeopteryx was unable to execute the flight path of modern birds, this similarity represents the strongest evidence of active flight in this animal presented in 150 years of research."
The bones themselves were hollow, a feature shared exclusively with flying birds and pterosaurs, suggesting that Archeopteryx could fly.
The statistical comparison placed the bones of Archeopteryx very close to those of birds mostly inhabited on land, such as pheasants and road runners, Voeten said. This supported the idea of active flight for Archeopteryx, which means that it could fly to escape predators or short distances to reach new locations, as do pheasants and roadrunners.
Approximately 150 million years ago during the Jurassic period, when Archeopteryx lived, The southeastern part of Germany where the fossils were found would have been a tropical archipelago. Then they could have flown from island to island.
Voeten and his colleagues also noted that the bones were well developed for the blood vessels, which might suggest an active flight, but believe that more research is needed on this point.  So, what would active flight look like if it is not the fluttering of modern birds up and down? Archeopteryx was probably unable to raise its wings on its back, said Voeten, due to its primitive structure of the shoulder and the lack of a strongly winged sternum attached to the muscles of flight.
The study does not definitely describe the flight style, but Voeten and his team believe that due to the scapular waist, it is possible that Archeopteryx I had a flight line facing forward and up, followed by a power stroke oriented back and down, almost like a butterfly hit. Future research is necessary to refine your hypothesis.
There is a reason why this type of flight is not observable in today's birds: it became extinct because it was not effective.
"Archeopteryx is not a direct ancestor of modern birds, but rather a member of a larger group of elaborately feathered dinosaurs that seem to have participated in a variety of experimental dinosaur flight modes," Voeten said. "Today, 150 million years later, all styles of flying dinosaurs (voladores) except the flight modes of modern birds have been extinguished.We believe that our study admits that the evolution of the dinosaur flight was not simply a straight line towards the flight of modern birds but involved an exotic diversity of alternative, experimental and intermediate solutions that eventually turned out to be evolutionary dead ends. "
During the Jurassic period over the German archipelago, the only company that Archeopteryx would have had in the heavens were the primitive pterosaurs. But this study shows that by the end of the Jurassic, the dinosaur flight had already evolved.
"This implies that the search for the first free flying dinosaurs, which will increase our understanding of the origin of dinosaurs' flight, should focus on fossils older than Archeopteryx," Voeten said.
Voeten and his colleagues want to answer new questions raised by this latest research, especially refining how Archeopteryx flew, as well as other aspects of his lifestyle and physiology.
"Unraveling the competing evolutionary forces that acted on bones now fossilized to return extinct animals to life, so to speak, is a very rewarding occupation, especially when consider the beautifully preserved fossils of the still enigmatic Archeopteryx, "said Voeten. "From a historical perspective, it is clear that Archeopteryx represents a true icon of evolution: it played an important role both in the early communication of Darwin's theory of biological evolution and, later, in the recognition that birds are, in fact, dinosaurs.
"With 11 Archeopteryx specimens currently known, which makes Archeopteryx a comparatively well-sampled dinosaur, it is quite remarkable that this taxon remains somewhat mysterious to this day. Having been able to contribute to our knowledge of this animal has been a very satisfying experience. "