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Abstract

Archaeopteryx, first discovered in 1861 from the Solnhofen lithographic limestone of Bavaria, is the oldest feathered animal in the fossil record. Since its discovery it has been the focus of discussions about avian ancestry. Its mosaic of saurian and avian skeletal characters made it the classical ‘missing link’ of the Darwinian Theory of evolution. Even as early as 1868 Huxley advocated a close dinosaurian relationship of birds, a position followed later by such palaeontological luminaries as Marsh, Baur, Nopcsa and Abel, among others. Only in 1926, when Gerhard Heilmann published his seminal work, The Origin of Birds, was a ‘thecodontian’ origin of birds favoured. This book dominated perceptions of avian origins for the next half century, until John H. Ostrom reinvigorated the hypothesis of a dinosaurian ancestry for birds based on more Archaeopteryx specimens and new discoveries of theropod dinosaurs. Finally, the advent of cladistic methodology was instrumental in supporting Archaeopteryx and Aves within the theropod clade Maniraptora, a view almost ubiquituous today.

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