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New study restores famed fossil to “bird” branch

Discovery of the fossil of the Aurornis xui dinosaur helped scientists classify Archaeopteryx as a bird.

Associated Press

Discovery of the fossil of the Aurornis xui dinosaur helped scientists classify Archaeopteryx as a bird.

LOS ANGELES — A raven-sized creature that lived about 150 million years ago is back on its perch, a new study says.

Pegged as the earliest known bird, Archaeopteryx’s status was called into question two years ago by Chinese scientists. They proposed yanking the prehistoric creature off the “bird” branch of the evolutionary family tree and moving it onto a closely related lineage of birdlike dinosaurs.

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Now an international team led by the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences believes Archaeopteryx should be considered a bird.

The famed fossil was discovered in 1861 in Germany.

Fossil discoveries of feathered dinosaurs in China over the past two decades have challenged Archaeopteryx’s place in bird evolution.

The latest evidence suggests Archaeopteryx had more in common with birds than dinosaurs comes from the discovery of an intact, well-preserved skeleton of a previously unknown dinosaur dubbed Aurornis xui.

Belgian researcher Pascal Godefroit and his team compared the anatomy of the newly discovered dinosaur fossil with a variety of birds and dinosaurs to determine their relationship. The analysis, published in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature, classifies Archaeopteryx back into the bird category.

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