Taking Wing: Archaeopteryx and the Evolution of Bird Flight

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9780684849652: Taking Wing: Archaeopteryx and the Evolution of Bird Flight

In 1861, just a few years after the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, a scientist named Hermann von Meyer made an amazing discovery. Hidden in the Bavarian region of Germany was a fossil skeleton so exquisitely preserved that its wings and feathers were as obvious as its reptilian jaws and tail. This transitional creature offered tangible proof of Darwin's theory of evolution.
Hailed as the First Bird, Archaeopteryx has remained the subject of heated debates for the last 140 years. Are birds actually living dinosaurs? Where does the fossil record really lead? Did flight originate from the "ground up" or "trees down"? Pat Shipman traces the age-old human desire to soar above the earth and to understand what has come before us. Taking Wing is science as adventure story, told with all the drama by which scientific understanding unfolds.

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About the Author:

Pat Shipman, an anthropologist at Pennsylvania State University, is the author of The Evolution of Racism and, with Alan Walker, The Wisdom of the Bones. She has written extensively on evolution and anthropology for such magazines as Discover, Natural History, New Scientist, and Focus. She lives in State College, Pennsylvania.

From Kirkus Reviews:

An anthropologist (Penn State Univ.) examines one of the most famous fossil organisms ever discovered, and discusses its meaning in the ongoing debates about evolution. The first hint of Archaeopteryx--the impression in stone of a solitary feather--was unearthed in the limestone quarries of Solnhofen, Germany, in 1861. At an estimated age of 150 million years, it was immediately hailed as representing the earliest known bird. The fossil, and seven more specimens later uncovered, reveal a creature much like many small dinosaurs--but with the unmistakable impressions of feathers around its forelimbs. The first discovered skeleton appeared to be a clear-cut example of the sort of intermediate form, part reptile and part bird, that Darwin's brand-new theory of evolution needed to bolster its case. But was it really? One German scientist tried to rename it Griphosaurus, classifying it not as a bird, but as a feathered coelurosaur. Others argued that the feather impressions were faked--a claim that still surfaces in anti-evolutionary tracts. Thomas Huxley led the evolutionists' countercharge in several seminal articles, deploying evidence for the now widely accepted position that birds are the direct descendants of dinosaurs. Shipman (The Evolution of Racism, 1994) presents a detailed history of the fossils and the debate around them, including quotations from many of the original articles. Shipman pays particular attention to the question of flight itself--how and why over many generations, a small dinosaur developed anatomical structures that allowed it to take to the air. In the process of answering this question, the author investigates aerodynamics, the anatomy of birds and other flying creatures from insects to pterosaurs to bats, modern theories of dinosaur life and ecology, and other issues that will fascinate natural-history buffs. Lively and well written, offering a good sense not only of the intriguing first bird, but of the way science works. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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