Press Release

May 5, 2024Exhibition

Mayor Brandon Johnson and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle to attend unveiling of the Chicago Archaeopteryx

The Chicago Archaeopteryx. Photo Delaney Drummond © Field Museum 

Every bird you’ve ever seen— every pigeon at a bus stop, every penguin at the zoo— is a living,  breathing dinosaur. Birds are the only group of dinosaurs that survived the mass extinction  caused when an asteroid hit the Earth 66 million years ago. A fossil called Archaeopteryx (ar key-AHP-ter-icks) with feathers, hollow bones, clawed wings, fifty tiny teeth, and a long bony  tail is the earliest known dinosaur that also qualifies as a bird. This spring, the Field Museum is  becoming one of the few places on Earth to see a real Archaeopteryx fossil.

Archaeopteryx is arguably the most important fossil ever discovered. It transformed how  scientists see the world, by providing strong support for Darwin’s theory of evolution,” said  Field Museum President and CEO Julian Siggers, PhD. “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.” 

Only a dozen other Archaeopteryx specimens have been found; most of them are in Europe. The only other Archaeopteryx in the United States is in Thermopolis, Wyoming. “As the only  Archaeopteryx specimen in a major natural history museum in the Western Hemisphere, we hope this fossil will become an ambassador for paleontology,” said Siggers. “By joining the Field’s world-famous collection of fan-favorite dinosaurs, including SUE the T. rex, the Chicago Archaeopteryx cements our city as the greatest place in the U.S. to be a dinosaur fan.” 

All Archaeopteryx specimens come from a fossil deposit in southern Germany called the Solnhofen Limestone. This particular specimen was found by a private fossil collector prior to  1990, and has been in private hands since 1990. A coalition of supporters helped the Field  Museum procure it; it arrived at the museum in August 2022. 

“When the specimen arrived, it was still unprepared, meaning that most of the skeleton was  obscured by a top layer of rock. We weren’t sure how complete it was—when we X-rayed the  fossil slab and saw that the fossil inside was nearly 100% complete, we cheered,” said Jingmai  O’Connor, PhD, the Field’s associate curator of fossil reptiles. 

The fossil’s unprepared state provided a unique opportunity for the Field Museum. “When a  fossil is prepared for the commercial fossil industry, sometimes the physical beauty of the  specimen is prioritized over the scientific details. But since the Field Museum’s fossil  preparators Akiko Shinya and Connie Van Beek led the project, they preserved all sorts of fine  details that are invaluable to scientists using this fossil for research,” said O’Connor. 

O’Connor is renowned for her work on fossil birds, but she never imagined she’d be able to work on an Archaeopteryx. “I’d say that working on it was a dream come true, but I didn’t even think something so special was worth dreaming of,” she said. O’Connor has already begun studying the Chicago Archaeopteryx, and her forthcoming work is based on never-before-seen details of the animal’s skeleton, especially its skull. “This is one of the most complete, best-preserved Archaeopteryx ever found, and thanks to Akiko and Connie’s work, it’s the best-prepared,” said O’Connor.

The fossil will go on display to the public on Tuesday, May 7, and Field Museum Members will  have a chance to see it that week at the museum’s Members’ Nights, when the museum’s exhibitions and behind-the-scenes collections are open for Members to explore after dark. The fossil will be accompanied by a hologram-like animated 3D projection showing how  Archaeopteryx would have looked in life. Following the Field’s Dinopalooza celebration on  Saturday, June 8, the fossil will be removed from view in preparation for its permanent exhibition in a large immersive display opening in Fall 2024.

Members of the media are invited to a press preview on Monday, May 6, at 9:30am. Mayor  Brandon Johnson and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle will be in attendance for  the unveiling of the fossil. 

Quotes from elected officials 

“Illinois has always been a home for those looking to learn, explore, and expand their horizons— and I’m so glad that now, visitors to the Field Museum will be able to do so by learning about  Archaeopteryx,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “This acquisition is another jewel in the Field’s  fossil collection, and I’m certain this one-of-a-kind experience will bring visitors and curious  minds to Chicago to explore the earliest known bird.” 

"The acquisition of the Archaeopteryx fossil by the Field Museum enriches our community's  engagement with science and history, aligning with Cook County's goals to cultivate access to  educational and cultural resources," said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.  "As a former history teacher, I see this extraordinary specimen as a crucial link between the past  and the present - it also illustrates the importance of investing in resources that not only educate but also inspire. As we unveil this treasure, we reaffirm our commitment to fostering Cook County as a regional hub of knowledge and discovery for all." 

“We are excited to celebrate this priceless specimen and its significance in further positioning  Chicago as a premier destination in the world to explore the natural sciences,” said Mayor  Brandon Johnson. “We are especially appreciative of the educational programming the Field  Museum is developing to ensure the Archaeopteryx enriches the experience of students and  educators right here in the community.” 

Donor recognitions 

Acquisition of the Chicago Archaeopteryx was made possible through the generosity of the Walter Family Foundation and a challenge grant from an anonymous donor. 

Additional support is provided by: 

Diana and David Moore; Jessica and Steve Sarowitz; Nicholas J. Pritzker; Lauer Foundation for Paleontology, Science and Education, Bruce Lauer and René Lauer; Marshall B. Front Family Charitable Foundation/Laura De Ferrari and Marshall B. Front.

Corporate funding provided by Arc’teryx Chicago. 

About Arc’teryx 

Arc’teryx is a Canadian company based in the Coast Mountains. Our design process is connected to the real world, focused on delivering durable, unrivaled performance. Our products are distributed through more than 2,400 retail locations worldwide. We are problem solvers, always evolving and searching for a better way to deliver resolved, minimalist designs. Good design that matters makes lives better. 

RSVP to the May 6 press event: Members of the media interested in attending the press event  should email  

A press kit, including photographs, illustrations, and video, is available on Dropbox.