Voeten DFAE, Cubo J, de Margerie E, Röper M, Beyrand V, Bureš S, Tafforeau P, Sanchez S
Nat Commun 9 (1) 923 [2018-03-13; online 2018-03-13]
Archaeopteryx is an iconic fossil taxon with feathered wings from the Late Jurassic of Germany that occupies a crucial position for understanding the early evolution of avian flight. After over 150 years of study, its mosaic anatomy unifying characters of both non-flying dinosaurs and flying birds has remained challenging to interpret in a locomotory context. Here, we compare new data from three Archaeopteryx specimens obtained through phase-contrast synchrotron microtomography to a representative sample of archosaurs employing a diverse array of locomotory strategies. Our analyses reveal that the architecture of Archaeopteryx's wing bones consistently exhibits a combination of cross-sectional geometric properties uniquely shared with volant birds, particularly those occasionally utilising short-distance flapping. We therefore interpret that Archaeopteryx actively employed wing flapping to take to the air through a more anterodorsally posteroventrally oriented flight stroke than used by modern birds. This unexpected outcome implies that avian powered flight must have originated before the latest Jurassic.