Press Releases

Was it a bird? Was it a dinosaur?


"The Phantom" Archaeopteryx comes to Cardiff



Was Archaeopteryx a bird or a dinosaur? So far only 10 specimens of Archaeopteryx have ever been found, all from the same area of Germany. Now one of these original specimens known as "The Phantom" will be on display in the UK for the first time, at

National Museum Cardiff from Tuesday 18 October for visitors to find out more about this exciting fossil.

The iconic fossil is often thought of as the ‘missing-link’ between dinosaurs and birds. Archaeopteryx, which is about the size of a magpie, 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 original specimen now on display at National Museum Cardiff, 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).

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. However, it lacked the fully reversed toes which enable many modern birds to perch. Nevertheless, Archaeopteryx did have a wishbone, wings and asymmetrical ‘flight’ feathers, like a bird. It is likely that Archaeopteryx could fly, although perhaps not strongly.

Dr Richard Bevins, Keeper of Geology, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales said, "We’re absolutely delighted and very excited that we have "The Phantom" Archaeopteryx specimen in Cardiff and in the UK for the first time ever. This is a great opportunity for visitors to come and discover more in our new exhibition on this rare and controversial fossil."