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Field Museum unveils fossil of earliest known bird

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(The Center Square) – One of the few fossils of the earliest known bird now calls Illinois home.

The Field Museum in Chicago on Monday unveiled a fossil of the earliest known bird species. The museum had acquired the 13th known specimen of Archaeopteryx, a fossil often described as the missing link between dinosaurs and birds.

Jingmai O’Connor, associate curator of fossil reptiles, said it has been an honor to work on the fossil.

“As a paleontologist whose specialty is the earliest evolution of birds, Archaeopteryx is like the Holy Grail,” said O’Connor. “Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine being able to study one of the best specimens of this iconic species.”

The fossil was discovered by quarry workers in Germany in 1990 and has been in the hands of private collectors ever since. The fossil arrived at the museum in August of 2022 and staff have been working on the specimen since.

Several dignitaries were on hand for the unveiling, including Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

“Today’s announcement follows a long list of accomplishments for the Field Museum which over its 130 years has built out its extensive collection of fossils and artifacts, each of which is helping us put together the puzzle of where we came from,” said Pritzker.

The fossil will be on temporary display through early June and then be moved behind closed doors while its permanent exhibit is being built.

“This is the Field Museum’s most significant fossil acquisition since Sue the T. Rex, and we’re thrilled to be able to study the Chicago Archaeopteryx and to share it with our visitors,” said Field Museum President and CEO Julian Siggers.