Field Museum has a new fossil of an avian dinosaur, unveiled at an event Monday

The Field Museum has added a new fossil to its collection, calling it the museum’s most important fossil acquisition since Sue the T. rex. An Archaeopteryx, it has feathers, hollow bones, a long tail and 50 teeth — and is the earliest known avian dinosaur, a link between dinosaurs and modern birds.

The fossil was unveiled at an event Monday and will go on display to the public Tuesday, accompanied by a hologram-like projection showing how the Archaeopteryx would have looked in life.

It’s one of two Archaeopteryx specimens in the United States — and only a dozen others have been found. This fossil was discovered in southern Germany before 1990 and arrived at the museum in 2022. For those wondering if the fossil will be given a name, like Sue (maybe Archie?), the Field says it already has one: All Archaeopteryx specimens are named after the city in which they reside, so this one is called the Chicago Archaeopteryx.

This isn’t the first time an Archaeopteryx (pronounced ar-key-AHP-ter-icks, meaning “ancient wing”) has been on display at the Field Museum. In 1997, the museum hosted the first exhibit outside of Europe when there were only six such fossils. Now, however, the Field Museum can claim the fossil as part of its permanent collection, which will set the stage for a “journey of discovery” as the fossil aids research of the evolution of modern bird species, said Jingmai O’Connor, associate curator of fossil reptiles.

“This is without doubt one of the best specimens of an important species that has ever been found,” O’Connor said during Monday’s unveiling. “I am blown away by how much new information the Chicago Archaeopteryx has revealed in just the few months I’ve been able to study it.”

O’Connor said many of the questions to which scientists are seeking answers relate to the origins of bird species of today, such as how they are able to fly.

According to a museum statement, the Archaeopteryx lived about 150 million years ago, during the late Jurassic period, much earlier than the T. rex. Rather than being the ancestor of modern birds, it’s part of a group of species that includes birds. O’Connor says that it could fly, but not very well.

During the event, which was attended by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Mayor Brandon Johnson, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Ald. Lamont Robinson, 4th, several of the politicians spoke about the importance of the new fossil not only for the development of new research in Chicago but also to inspire a new generation of learners to pursue careers in the sciences or education.

Johnson, a former history teacher who was introduced as “mayor of the best dinosaur city in the world,” said the Archaeopteryx will serve as “an important attraction for young people.”

“That’s how we ultimately build a better, stronger, safer Chicago — through these educational opportunities and investments,” Johnson added.

The sentiment was echoed by Preckwinkle and Robinson, who said they found inspiration in educational opportunities offered in the natural sciences.

“This remarkable fossil that bridges the ancient past with our modern understanding is a symbol of discovery and inspiration,” Robinson said, joking that the fossil was especially exciting to him as both an Indiana Jones and “Jurassic Park” fan.

“Coming here to the museum as a South Side kid and now representing the Field Museum in Chicago City Council, I know firsthand the transformative power of such experiences. That is why I’m committed to ensuring that our youth have ample opportunities to visit this new exhibit and the museum.”

The Archaeopteryx will be on view until the Museum’s Dinopalooza event June 8. It will at that time be removed to prepare for a permanent, immersive exhibition that is due to open in the fall.