Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"First Bird" Competition Heats Up

Fossil freaks are chatting up and down the Internet this week about a "new" fossil that will potentially shake up how we view the history of dinosaurs/avian-dinosaurs/birds. Readers might know that in addition to being a dino-gal, I have a very specific affection for Archaeopteryx, pictured right, the current holder of the "First bird" title, which it has boasted for 150 years.

Might Archaeopteryx be usurped as Urvogel ("Original Bird" or "First Bird") by this new fossil, Xiaotingia (pictured below)? Maybe. Maybe not. Researchers are agreeing that the fossil may change the way we see this evolutionary process, but it also might be a fluke, or a minor change of course. The "new family tree is statistically weak," says Xing Xu, the fossil's identifier/promoter/manager, and these things are usually theoretical for a long time before anything is "proven" - if it ever is.

It is amazing that we are uncovering the history of our Earth every day. Our knowledge of what came before us is and should be constantly changing -evolving- or our intelligence and knowledge is wasted. With each new fossil we learn more about where all of these amazing life forms came from, and where they are going. Where we are going.

The new fossil doesn't change the fact that birds evolved from dinosaurs, and doesn't eliminate Archaeopteryx's huge role in supporting Darwin's theory of evolution, and demonstrating that what we know is not what always was. Darwin told us that life forms are constantly evolving, that the relatives of species took on different forms in the past - and Archaeopteryx still shows us either a bird with teeth, or a dinosaur with feathers - or something beautiful in between, whether or not it loses its place at the base of the evolutionary tree branch.

For more about the battle of the birds check out these two great articles at NYT and iO9.

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