- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2006


A rare and prized fossil of the feathered Archaeopteryx — thought to be Earth’s first bird

— has become something of an albatross to a small Wyoming museum.

Although the scientific significance of the fossil is unquestioned and its monetary value thought to be in excess of $1 million, the fact that it is bound for a private museum has drawn scorn from some scientists.

“Ethically, in our profession, if a specimen is not in the public domain, its scientific worth is about zero,” said Kevin Padian, a curator of paleontology and professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

But officials at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, where the fossil eventually will be on display, give assurances that it will be available for scientific study and public access.

They acknowledge that the situation of ownership is not perfect, but say it is better than not having the fossil available to study at all.

“If you can show me what’s wrong with that, I’m more than happy to put it back in a bank in Switzerland,” said Wyoming Dinosaur Center owner Burkhard Pohl, who brokered the sale of the fossil from one private owner to another.

The Archaeopteryx was a birdlike creature about the size of a crow, with teeth, a lizardlike tail and wings. It lived about 150 million years ago and many scientists consider it to be the first bird because it had wings and was the first fossil found with feathers.

Only 10 Archaeopteryx fossils are known to exist — all in Europe.

The specimen heading to Thermopolis, a town of 3,100 people in central Wyoming, is the newest and among the most complete. About 1 foot square in size, it is encased in a slab of limestone dug up in Germany.

It is now housed at the Senckenberg museum in Frankfurt, where it will stay until the Thermopolis museum can install proper security and a display case, expected sometime next year.

Kirk Johnson, chief curator of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, said the rarity and completeness of the skeleton leads him to think that “it must be worth millions. How many, I don’t know.”

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