On July 1, 1858, the Linnaeus Society of England held an emergency meeting for by-election of members on this day. The meeting announced the latest research results of Darwin and Wallace. Participants at that time had a strong interest in these words full of fresh ideas, and felt quite at a loss. And this day is also regarded by later generations as the day when the theory of evolution was officially born, and it will be recorded forever in the annals of history.
On November 26, the second year after the thesis was read out, Darwin published a book called “Origin of Species Based on Natural Selection or Survival of the Fittest”, which is the famous “Origin of Species”. Darwin proved the fact of life evolution with careful observation and rigorous reasoning.
The evolution theory based on natural selection put forward by Darwin and Wallace freed biology (and even the entire natural sciences) from the embarrassment of being a religious vassal, and shed light on the way for mankind to understand and understand the natural world. Therefore, it is not difficult to imagine how much controversy the “blockbuster” they threw in the society at that time aroused. However, Darwin had good luck. Soon after the publication of “The Origin of Species”, a very powerful piece of evidence emerged.
The biggest assist of evolution
In 1860, in the Late Jurassic limestone deposits in Solenhofen, Germany, a single feather-marked fossil was discovered. This feather, which is about 150 million years old, came from the “archaeopteryx” that people first came into contact with. The following year, another Archaeopteryx skeleton specimen was unearthed in the same area, which was purchased by the Museum of Natural History in London at a high price of £700, known as the London specimen in history.
Between 1874 and 1875, a very well-preserved specimen of Archaeopteryx skeleton was unearthed in Echstadt, Germany. This specimen, funded by Werner von Siemens, the founder of Germany’s Siemens AG, was purchased by the Berlin Museum of Natural History at a price of 20,000 gold marks. It is also known as the Berlin specimen. So far, people have discovered 12 skeletal fossils of Archaeopteryx.
Feather imprint fossil found in Solnhofen area
Archaeopteryx “Berlin Specimen”
Archaeopteryx was about the same size as today’s magpie, about 0.5 meters in length. It wears feathers similar to modern birds, but has sharp teeth in the upper and lower jaws, three fingers on the forelimbs with claws, and a long tail. Therefore, although it looks like a bird, it is not much different from a reptile in terms of bone characteristics. The discovery of Archaeopteryx provides solid fossil evidence for the origin of birds from reptiles, and naturally, it became one of the most important evidence supporting Darwin’s theory of chemistry at the time, and thus became one of the most famous fossils in the world.
“Representative” is a feather?
However, despite its reputation, few people know the orthotype specimen designated by the German scholar von Meyer when he first described the naming of Archaeopteryx (when studying new biological species, the researcher designated the only representative of this species in the original article The specimen is actually the earliest fossil of feather imprints discovered in 1860. This caused trouble for subsequent research.
Archaeopteryx “London Specimen”
An early imaginary drawing of Archaeopteryx, published in 1906.
Found in northeastern China, the Mesozoic birds and non-bird dinosaurs in the Jehol Biota all have feathers with similar characteristics, making the feathers themselves difficult to identify as fossil birds. There is no way to identify other ancient birds based on the positive specimen with only one feather. Because of the importance of Archaeopteryx as the earliest and most primitive bird known, its orthotype specimens are of irreplaceable significance for bird research. Therefore, in 2007, some scholars proposed that the London specimen should be established as the new orthodox specimen of Archaeopteryx.
Compared to the Berlin specimens, the London specimens are not well preserved, and they don’t even have a head. Why was it chosen as the new positive specimen of Archaeopteryx? Mainly for the following considerations: First, the London specimen is the earliest specimen of Archaeopteryx skeleton. According to the taxonomy, the order of first come first is followed. If the original orthotype specimen is to be abolished, the specimen with the second earliest discovery time should be designated. Secondly, the London specimen itself is the most widely known specimen of Archaeopteryx, and many people have mistaken it for an orthotype specimen.
Based on further research on the original naming documents, Meyer had already connected Archaeopteryx with the London specimen from the beginning.
After a series of heated discussions, the scientists finally voted in September 2011 by the International Animal Nomenclature Committee to determine the London specimen as the new orthodox specimen of Archaeopteryx.
A restored model of Archaeopteryx. Hidden in the Oxford University Museum of Nature.