Detection of lost calamus challenges identity of isolated Archaeopteryx feather
In 1862, a fossil feather from the Solnhofen quarries was described as the holotype of the iconic Archaeopteryx lithographica. The isolated feather’s identification has been problematic, and the fossil was considered either a primary, secondary or, most recently, a primary covert. The specimen is surrounded by the ‘mystery of the missing quill’. The calamus described in the original paper is unseen today, even under x-ray fluorescence and UV imaging, challenging its original existence. We answer this question using Laser-Stimulated Fluorescence (LSF) through the recovery of the geochemical halo from the original calamus matching the published description. Our study therefore shows that new techniques applied to well-studied iconic fossils can still provide valuable insights. The morphology of the complete feather excludes it as a primary, secondary or tail feather of Archaeopteryx. However, it could be a covert or a contour feather, especially since the latter are not well known in Archaeopteryx. The possibility remains that it stems from a different feathered dinosaur that lived in the Solnhofen Archipelago. The most recent analysis of the isolated feather considers it to be a primary covert. If this is the case, it lacks a distinct s-shaped centerline found in modern primary coverts that appears to be documented here for the first time.