Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Geologic Time The Story of a Changing Earth
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The Jurassic
Jurassic Life
Diversity in the "Age of Dinosaurs"
Flight and the Origin of Birds
Jurassic Climate and Tectonic Activity
Skeleton of Camarasaurus
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Allosaurus fragilis
Diplodocus longus
Camptosaurus dispar
Ceratosaurus nasicornus
Stegosaurus stenops
Archaeopteryx lithographica
Lytoceras cornucopiae
Promicroceras planicosta
Walking stick
Norfolk Island pine
Ginkgo leaf
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Flight and the Origin of Birds
One of the most important paleontological finds came in 1861, with the discovery of Archaeopteryx in Late Jurassic (around 146 million years ago) limestones near Solnhofen, Germany. Although the skeleton of Archaeopteryx was nearly identical to that of the small theropod dinosaur Compsognathus, this fossil also bore the unmistakable imprints of feathers. For over 100 years, Archaeopteryx was the strongest evidence that birds had evolved from theropod dinosaurs, and it therefore deserved a place on the dinosaur family tree. Since then, many other feathered dinosaurs have been found in China, further supporting this hypothesis, and future discoveries will help us understand exactly how flight evolved in this unique group of theropods.

Although the first bird represents a remarkable evolutionary event, the Jurassic skies truly belonged to another group of vertebrates, the pterosaurs. These flying reptiles, relatives of the dinosaurs, had evolved in the Triassic but by now were very diverse. Pterosaurs lived on nearly every continent and were far more common than birds throughout the Jurassic. They came in many shapes and sizes: long-tailed forms such as Rhamphorhynchus, huge-headed Dimorphodon, and the sparrow-sized and short-tailed Pterodactylus.


Overview | Jurassic Life | Diversity in the “Age of Dinosaurs”
Flight and the Origin of Birds | Jurassic Climate and Tectonic Activity

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