The recent discovery of the Xiaotingia, a chicken sized dinosaur discovered originally in Liaoning province, has dealt a blow to the archaeopteryx, who, until now, was considered to be the oldest bird. The findings of Chinese paleontologist Dr. Xu Xing, who discovered the Xiaotingia, claims that the archaeopteryx is in fact a dinosaur, not a bird.
Three other species now contend for the first bird spot, all of which are to be found, coincidentally, in China. Because paper, gun powder, the compass, movable type, writing, and porcelain weren’t enough?
It’s quite the knock down the pecking order to go from “the original bird” to “just another small, feathered, bird-like therapod fluttering around in the Jurassic.” This is how James Witmer, paleontologist holding a master’s in buzzkill, has described the possible re-categorization of the archaeopteryx in light of Xiaotingia’s (Chinese for “spoil sport”) discovery.
In its time, the archaeopteryx, discovered not long after the publication of The Origin of Species, embodied the essence of a species in transition from ancient to modern form.
Scientists claim that in a phylogenetic analysis (remember to get one at least once a year kids!) Xiaotingia’s characteristics brought archaeopteryx into “the dinosaur camp.” Though dinosaurs include numerous cool creatures, it is far too late to compensate the archaeopteryx by giving it a spot in the original Jurassic Park film, short of digital reedits (are you listening, Spielberg?).
Adding insult to injury, Xiaotingia was an herbivore and, we suspect, a schoolyard snitch. Whether that rebel meat-eater archaeopteryx of our hearts is no longer the first bird, we do know that it was at least one of the original bad-asses.
Nevertheless, scientists assure us that another fossil could put archaeopteryx back in the running. So, we call upon you, readers, to do your duty, stand up for what’s right, go get a shovel and meet us down by the river at midnight by the nearest dig site.
By Mike Arrigo