As part of an international team of scientists, researchers at The University of Manchester's School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and the team have been re-examining one of the only 12 known specimens by carrying out the first ever synchrotron examination, a form of 3D X-ray analysis, of an Archaeopteryx.
Thanks to this new insight, the team says that this individual Archaeopteryx fossil, known as 'specimen number eight', is physically much closer to a modern bird than it is to a reptile. Therefore, it is evolutionary distinctive and different enough to be described as a new species -- Archaeopteryx albersdoerferi.
The research states that some of the differing skeletal characteristics of Archaeopteryx albersdoerferi include the fusion of cranial bones, diverse pectoral girdle (chest) and wing elements, and a reinforced arrangement of carpals and metacarpals (hand) bones.
These features are seen more in modern flying birds and are not found in the older Archaeopteryx lithographica species, which more resembles reptiles and dinosaurs.
Specimen number eight is the youngest of all the 12 known specimens by roughly half a million years. This age difference in contrast to the other specimens is a key factor in labeling it as a new species.
Archaeopteryx was first defined as the 'missing link' between reptiles and birds in 1861, and is now viewed as the link between dinosaurs and birds. Only 12 specimens have ever been found and all are from the late Jurassic of Bavaria, now Germany, dating back about 150 million years.