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Feather Fossil Long Thought To Be From Archaeopteryx Bird Belonged To Unknown Dinosaur

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Imaging technology revealed the missing quill of a 150-million-year-old fossilized feather discovered in Germany in 1861. Analyses revealed the feather did not belong to the Archaeopteryx bird.  ( The University of Hong Kong )

The first fossil feather discovered more than a century ago has long been linked with the famed Archaeopteryx bird. Findings of a new analysis, however, showed the feather likely belonged to an unknown feathered dinosaur.

Missing Feather Quill

Scientists described the 150-million-year-old fossilized feather right after its discovery in Germany in 1861.

The earlier descriptions said the feather has a long quill, but this is not visible today. The quill happens to be crucial in knowing which part of the body the feather belonged to.

Using advanced imaging technology called laser-stimulated fluorescence (LSF), Michael Pittman, from the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Hong Kong, and colleagues were able to reveal the missing quill of the fossil feather.

"The quill only remains as a geochemical 'ghost' (or halo) because the original fossil material is no longer preserved," Pittman said

The imaging technique rendered the feather in record resolution, allowing the researchers to make a detailed comparisons of the feather impression with those of other fossil feathers that belonged to the Archaeopteryx and modern birds.

Feather Not From Archaeopteryx

The feather was long thought to be a primary covert, or tail feather, from the Archaeopteryx, but the new study found the feather did not represent the primary, secondary, or tail feather of the Archaeopteryx.

The Archaeopteryx is the oldest known fossil bird. It had wings, feathers, and hollow bones like a bird but had teeth, legs, and bony tail like a small coelurosaur dinosaur.

It also showed the feather differs from the coverts of modern birds because it lacked a distinct s-shaped centerline.

Based on the new data, the researchers suggest the isolated feather is from an unknown feathered dinosaur.

"The isolated feather may belong to another basal avialan or even a non-avialan pennaraptoran, increasing the low theropod diversity of the Solnhofen Archipelago," the researchers wrote in their study.

The findings were published in journal Scientific Reports on Feb. 4.

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