The debate rumbles on as to whether the Archaeopteryx was a bird, a dinosaur or the transition between the two, but palaeontologists sometimes find time to agree that it is the closest known ancestor to our modern feathered friends.
© J. Sibbick
Now visitors to National Museum Cardiff can get a closer look at a fossil of this intriguing and rare prehistoric creature, which dates from the late Jurassic period (approx 150 million years ago), as one of only ten specimens goes on show.
About the size of a magpie, Archaeopteryx was first described 150 years ago by the German palaeontologist Hermann von Meyer (1801-1869) although this specimen, found in 1990 in Germany and known as The Phantom, may turn out to be one of the most important.
Discovered in younger rocks than the other ten recorded Archaeopteryx, experts believe it could be a more advanced specimen and consists of an almost complete skull, shoulder blades, the wishbone, and a left forelimb with a single finger claw.
Casts and images of all other nine Archaeopteryx fossils, including the so-called ‘London’ and ‘Berlin’ specimens can also be seen with the display together with preserved fossils from the same geological formation including a dragonfly and small pterosaur (flying reptile).
© Courtesy Amgueddfa Cymru
Unlike modern birds Archaeopteryx had a full set of teeth, a long bony tail and three claws on each of its wings, which may have been used for grasping branches. It is likely that Archaeopteryx could fly, although opinion on this is, again, divided.
“We’re absolutely delighted and very excited that we have the Archaeopteryx specimen in Cardiff and in the UK for the first time ever,” said Dr Richard Bevins, Keeper of Geology, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales.
“This is a great opportunity for visitors to come and discover more in our new exhibition on this rare and controversial fossil.”
- Archaeopteryx goes on display at National Museum Cardiff from Tuesday October 18.