"This animal had huge eyes and a huge vision region in its brain to go along with that, and a great sense of balance," said Dr. Timothy Rowe. "Its inner ear also looks very much like the ear of a modern bird."
Rowe co-directs the university's High-Resolution X-ray Computed Tomography (UTCT) facility, where he was able to help determine the bird-brain features of Archeopteryx from a fossil fragment brought to him by Angela Milner. The paleontologist at London's Natural History Museum is a co-author of the Nature paper that will be published Aug. 5, about the findings.
Rowe and other scientists revere the 147-million-year-old specimen that was originally discovered in German limestone in 1861 because it was found a year after Charles Darwin published "On The Origin of Species," and supports the theory of evolution. The new findings suggest it will also help define when bird flight began.
Dinosaurs found in China and elsewhere during the past decade have caused scientists to speculate that some had feathers, but couldn't fly. This research, Rowe said, disproves the theory that Archeopteryx was among those dinosaurs.
Rowe and Dr. Richard Ketcham, who manages the UTCT facility, took 1,300 images of the skull fragment that once held the creature's brain, eyes and ears using the university's sophisticated CT scanner. Ketcham then spent months removing artifacts that marred the images so the scientists could reconstruct the size and the features of the brain using 3-D modeling software.
The upper bones that covered the creature's braincase were overlapped in the squashed fossil. Computer modeling allowed the scientists to reposition the skul
Contact: Barbra Rodriguez
University of Texas at Austin