From “Winged Dinosaur Archaeopteryx Dressed for Flight” (ScienceDaily, Jan. 24, 2012), we learn,
Since its discovery 150 years ago, scientists have puzzled over whether the winged dinosaur Archaeopteryx represents the missing link in birds’ evolution to powered flight. Much of the debate has focused on the iconic creature’s wings and the mystery of whether — and how well — it could fly.
A team of researchers has hopes their recent findings will shed light on the question:
Through a novel analytic approach, the researchers have determined that a well-preserved feather on the raven-sized dinosaur’s wing was black. The color and parts of cells that would have supplied pigment are evidence the wing feathers were rigid and durable, traits that would have helped Archaeopteryx to fly.
The team also learned from its examination that Archaeopteryx’s feather structure is identical to that of living birds, a discovery that shows modern wing feathers had evolved as early as 150 million years ago in the Jurassic period.
They don’t directly answer the question:
“We can’t say it’s proof that Archaeopteryx was a flier. But what we can say is that in modern bird feathers, these melanosomes provide additional strength and resistance to abrasion from flight, which is why wing feathers and their tips are the most likely areas to be pigmented,” Carney said.
But with enough evidence, we may be able to.
Note: None of this argues for archaeopteryx as, in the popular legend, the “first bird.” ‘Pt’yx was apparently a dinosaur, but there was no law that said dinos couldn’t fly.
See also: Dinosaur nesting site pushes back knowledge by 100 million years