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Behind the scenes of the Teylers Museum

fossil of the archaeopteryx, found in 2011

New insights on the archaeopteryx

The archaeopteryx is mystical creature. It lived 150 million years ago, had feathers and
was long seen as the first bird ever existing on earth. Today the archaeopteryx is regarded as one of the earliest bird-like creature and its extremely rare fossils play an important role in understanding the genesis of birds. Recently, scientists published new insights on the origins of the archaeopteryx in Nature magazine.

How many archaeopteryx fossils are known?
The discovery of an eleventh specimen in 2011, was scientifically described in 2014. It is one of the more complete specimens, but is missing much of the skull and one forelimb. A twelfth specimen had been discovered by amateur collectors in 2010 at the Schamhaupten quarry, but the finding was only announced in February 2014. It is as yet not scientifically described.The first fossil of an archaeopteryx, excavated in 1855, is part of the collection of Teylers Museum and permanently on display.

Fossil of an archaeopteryx, Jura (ca. 150 million years ago). Collection Teylers Museum.

The 2011 archaeopteryx fossil and it's new insights
The 2011 fossil is very well preserved and complete. The perfect imprints of the feathers provided new insights on the origin and early evolution of feathers among dinosaurs. In its July 2014 issue, Nature magazine published these results[1]. For a long time it was assumed that the archaeopteryx and its contemporaries used feathers to fly. However, evidence grows stronger and stronger that feathers only much later adapted to that purpose. So what were they used for 150 million years ago? Most likely the archaeopteryx used its feathers to … strunt around, similar to a peacock. Can you imagine? More importantly however is that this discovery indicates that the origin of flight is far more complex than previously thought.

Click here to read more.

Illustration of an imagination of how an archaeopteryx could have looked like.

Christian Henning (1741-1822), Gevogelte in een park, ca. 1773 – 1777.

[1] Nature, 3 July 2014 

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