OUTDOORSPAUL CORMACAIN: Missing Link Could Prove Darwin Right

The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), June 12, 2004 | Go to article overview

OUTDOORSPAUL CORMACAIN: Missing Link Could Prove Darwin Right


Byline: OUTDOORS BY PAUL CORMACAIN

WE used to hear of the Archaeopteryx when we were younger. The name was trotted out to try to explain the unexplainable, to back or to detract from Darwin and his new ideas and theory. Many of the right wing religious brigade gave, and will give, no credence to Charles Darwin, but it is beginning to look more and more that he was right.

There now seems to be a consensus among scientists that a certain event happened 147 million years ago. A strange creature had the jaws of a reptile. Stranger, it had the feathers of a bird. Somehow or other this strange chap ended up in warm shallow waters of a chain of mud flats, and was discovered in 1861. That was a long time to lie around anywhere!

This strange creature came to light in Bavaria. It was seen by many, and the consensus is now growing, that this beast was the missing link. It was the size of a magpie, it could fly, though not as well as modern birds. Its flight feathers were not symmetrical, but then modern birds do not have symmetrical flight feathers. It had three clawed fingers, it had teeth, and it had a long bony tail. So this was a flying creature with the body of a dinosaur.

A workman was quarrying slate at a place called Solnhofen, in Bavaria when he came across this missing link. Modern birds have their bones honeycombed with air spaces, a technique which gives them strong, yet light, bones. Some 147 million years ago, the archaeopteryx did not have this refinement, which meant that it was difficult for him to fly. Nor had he a keel on his breast bone for the attachment of flying muscles. The thinking is he was not a good flier, and probably just glided along.

A total of seven archaeopteryx were discovered. They were all in the vicinity of Solnhofen, and they were all eventually to be considered the very first birds. One hundred years later an American scientist noticed that the archaeopteryx had the same wrist and hip bone as an agile pack hunting dinosaur he discovered.

So what is the big deal about a creature that disappeared 147 million years ago, and turned up in 1861. Well, the Ulster Museum had an exhibition of late, and featured in it were some of the wonders of our planet. If birds descended from dinosaurs, then some dinosaurs should have feathers.

In 1996, in a wonderful country called China, in an area called Liaoning, north east of Beijing, was made a momentous discovery.

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OUTDOORSPAUL CORMACAIN: Missing Link Could Prove Darwin Right
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