In 1861, German palaeontologist Hermann von Meyer discovered an ancient fossilised feather in limestone near Solnhofen, Germany. The feather belonged to a bird-like dinosaur known as Archaeopteryx, but in the ensuing century and a half, scientists began to think it belonged to an undiscovered type of species.
As the years rolled on, experts began to realise that many, if not most, species of dinosaurs were actually feathered.
Now, scientists from the University of South Florida (USF) have conclusive proof the ancient feather did definitely belong to the Archaeopteryx, also known by its German name, Urvogel.
The researchers analysed the main nine attributes of the feather, including the long quill, along with data from modern birds.
They also cross-referenced their data with the 13 known skeletal remains of the Archaeopteryx – a known dinosaur.
By analysing the data against one another, the researchers were able to conclude the feather did belong to the Archaeopteryx, putting a century-old debate to bed.
Lead author Ryan Carney, assistant professor of integrative biology at USF, said: “There’s been debate for the past 159 years as to whether or not this feather belongs to the same species as the Archaeopteryx skeletons, as well as where on the body it came from and its original colour.
“Through scientific detective work that combined new techniques with old fossils and literature, we were able to finally solve these centuries-old mysteries.”
Using modern technology, USF experts were also able to unravel some of the finer details about the fossilised feather.
An electron microscope revealed it was situated on the left wing of the dinosaur, which lived in the late Jurassic period 150 million years ago.
The team also detected melanosomes which are microscopic pigments that revealed the feather was matte black.
Previously, scientists have said the Archaeopteryx was the beginning of the dinosaur and bird crossover.
Dr Alison Woollard, from Oxford University’s Department of Biochemistry, said in 2017: “We know that birds are the direct descendants of dinosaurs, as proven by an unbroken line of fossils which tracks the evolution of the lineage from creatures such as the velociraptor or T-Rex through to the birds flying around today.
“The most famous of these is the Archaeopteryx, a fossil which clearly shows the transition between feathered dinosaurs and modern birds.”