Was Archaeopteryx a bird or a dinosaur? So far only 10 specimens have ever been found (plus one isolated feather), all from the same area of Germany.
Now one of these original specimens known as “The Phantom” (because it was known about but never seen) will be on display in the UK for the first time.
This is an exhibition to mark the 150th anniversary of the discovery of Archaeopteryx, the famous feathered fossil known as the ‘missing-link’ between dinosaurs and birds.
About the size of a magpie, Archaeopteryx was a primitive bird with feathers but its fossilised skeleton looks more like that of a small dinosaur.
It was first described 150 years ago by the German palaeontologist Hermann von Meyer (1801-1869). Since then Archaeopteryx has been the focus of controversy surrounding the origin of birds and their links with dinosaurs.
This particular specimen was found in 1990 in Daiting, Germany by a private collector. Its existence was only revealed in 1996 and a cast was released, but with no further news of its whereabouts made public, it was nicknamed “The Phantom”.
It was ‘rediscovered’ in 2009 and purchased by a professional palaeontologist. This is the first time the specimen has been shown to the public outside Germany.
Although fragmentary, the specimen may turn out to be one of the most important as it was found in younger rocks than all of the others and therefore it could be more advanced. It consists of an almost complete skull, shoulder blades, the wishbone, and a left forelimb with a single finger claw.
On display with this special specimen will be casts and images of all other nine Archaeopteryx fossils, including the so-called ‘London’ and ‘Berlin’ specimens.
Other exquisitely preserved fossils from the same geological formation can also be seen in this exhibition, including a dragonfly and small pterosaur (flying reptile).