Fossil pushes Archaeopteryx up a tree, claim scientists, in articles in Nature News, ScienceNOW and BBC News 29 May 2013 and New Scientist 30 May 2013. Pascal Godefroit, a palaeontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels and colleagues have studied a fossil found in the Tiaojishan Formation, in China. The fossil is a four-limbed creature with a tail, approximately 50 cm long with similar features to Archaeopteryx, including bird-like hip bones and a robust furcula (wishbone). The researchers describe “traces of plumulaceous feathers, comprising a bundle of filaments” along a third of the tail, above the neck, and around the chest, but there are no flight feathers preserved with it as there are with Archaeopteryx. The fossil has been named Aurornis xui and is dated as 160 million years old.

The fossil is nearly complete so the researchers carried out a detailed comparison of its skeleton with those of 100 dinosaurs and birds, and came up with a computer-generated evolutionary tree. This put Aurornis at the bottom of the bird branch, rather than Archaeopteryx. Archaeopteryx was moved further up the tree, making it definitely a bird, rather than a feathered dinosaur.

The status of Archaeopteryx has been disputed ever since it was found, and it has been called a bird or a dinosaur according to whatever suited the ever changing evolutionary story. According to New Scientist: “One day the most famous flying dinosaur – Archaeopteryx – is a direct ancestor of all modern birds; the next day it belongs to a different dinosaur group, suggesting that feathered flight evolved twice. Practically every new fossil and study forces a rethink.” Ironically, the most recent attempt to knock Archaeopteryx out of the bird tree was by Xing Xu, the Chinese palaeontologist the new fossil is named after. (Xu, X., You, H. and Han, F. Nature 475, 465–470 2011)

Paul Barrett from the Natural History Museum, London, UK told the BBC that fossils were providing fascinating insights into the emergence of the bird line and the “evolutionary ‘experimentation’ that preceded it”. He commented: “The beginnings of the bird line is all about fine-tuning parts of their anatomy – of their wings, of their hips, of their chest muscles and shoulder girdles, and so on – to make them flight-ready”.

BBC, Nature News, New Scientist

Editorial Comment: We can’t say it better than New Scientist: “But if history is anything to go by, this won’t be the final word on the matter. Another fossil that changes the picture again could be just around the corner – or under the next rock.”

Meanwhile Genesis 1:21 continues to state “God created … every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.” No discovery of fossil or living creatures contradicts that at all.

We can also add the idea that evolution was experimenting to make non-flying creatures “flight-ready” is also completely fanciful. Evolution is a totally mindless process that cannot have a goal, such as flight, in mind. Fine tuning structures to make them flight ready requires a creator who knows the physics of flying and what is needed to achieve it, and furthermore, any inadequate experiments do not survive. Just ask any aircraft engineer. (Ref. aves, flight)

For more on the supposed dinosaur-bird transition, see our answer to the question “Don’t feathered dinosaurs prove that birds evolved from dinosaurs?” Answer here.

Evidence News 12 June 2013