Archaeopteryx: Icon of Evolution at the Houston Museum of Natural Science

Archaeopteryx is the earliest bird known to science and provides compelling evidence that modern birds are direct descendants of the dinosaurs; yet only ten have ever been found. One of the most complete archaeopteryx fossils known—regarded by many experts as the “world’s most important fossil”—will be on display at The Houston Museum of Natural Science when Archaeopteryx: Icon of Evolution, a world premiere exhibition open through September 6, 2010.

Most scientists believe that birds evolved from small therapod dinosaurs. The key step was the development of feathers, turning animals that could walk or climb into animals that could fly. The first Archaeopteryx fossil was discovered in 1861, just two years after Charles Darwin published his theory of evolution.

Although the evidence linking Archaeopteryx to modern birds is persuasive, a spirited controversy amongst scientists will likely rage for some time to come. Detailed anatomical analysis—made possible by the stunning, near-perfect condition of the feathers—testifies that the avian connection is all but irrefutable.

“The discovery of a single fossilized feather in the stone quarries of Solnhofen, Germany in 1861 led to the discovery of a lizard-like creature, whose superb fossil showed clearly that it was completely covered with feathers,” said Joel Bartsch, president of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. “Named Archaeopteryx, and now considered the world’s earliest bird, this renowned fossil will be displayed in Houston for the first time ever. This is a rare opportunity to witness the direct link between dinosaurs and modern birds.”

Archaeopteryx, which lived over 150 million years ago, is a classic example of an evolutionary link between two groups of animals. This special exhibition will present for the first time an array of the finest known fossils from the late Jurassic period, showing life at the time of these first birds. In addition to the Archaeopteryx specimen, on loan from the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, Wyoming, the exhibition will feature more than 100 astonishingly detailed fossils from the famed quarries of Solnhofen, Germany, including fish, turtles, insects, lizards and pterodactyls.

The stone quarries of Solnhofen, Germany are known around the world for high quality “lithographic limestone,” the original source of rock plates for lithographic printing. Before the smooth, warm-hued limestone quarried at Solnhofen was used in lithography, it was prized for its beauty and durability as a carving and building stone, a purpose for which it is still in high demand. But perhaps most significantly, the Solnhofen limestone is among the world’s most prolific sources of superb fossils of animals and plants that lived millions of years ago.

See the nearly perfect fossil of Archaeopteryx, with the imprint of a body completely covered with feathers, beginning April 23 through September 6, 2010.

Archaeopteryx: Icon of Evolution is organized by the Houston Museum of Natural Science. For tickets, or more information, visit or call 713-639-4629.

The Houston Museum of Natural Science—one of the nation’s most-heavily attended museums—is a centerpiece of the Houston Museum District. With four floors of permanent exhibit halls, including the Wortham IMAX® Theatre, Cockrell Butterfly Center, Burke Baker Planetarium and George Observatory and as host to world-class and ever-changing touring exhibitions, the Houston Museum has something to delight every age group. With such diverse and extraordinary offerings, a trip to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, located at 5555 Hermann Park Drive in the heart of the Museum District, is always an adventure.

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