Named after the Greek for ‘Ancient Feather’, Archaeopteryx was for a long time considered a missing link between birds and dinosaurs and one of the first discovered feathered reptiles that could be classified as a bird.
Others have been found since, but the quality of the fossils discovered in Germany have been quite amazing, so it remains hugely important. Growing to about 0.5 m in length and with broad wings, they probably spent more time gliding than flying like a modern bird.
Indeed, they had much more in common with reptiles of the time, like sharp teeth, a bony tail, and hyperextensible second toes. Just twelve skeletons of the animal have ever been discovered, the last announced in 2014 and they do differ in age and detail. The first specimen, from 1861 and now held by the Natural History Museum in London, is considered the holotype.
Darwin had written his seminal work, On the Origin of Species, just two years before, and Archaeopteryx was an important example that helped cement his theories on evolution.