Quest for Archaeopteryx

DSC_0012As the snow comes in from the West, Winter descends on the valley trading the golden veins of Fall for the purity found in this veil of white. Alanna and Nic set off on their adventure to discover the origins of Archaeopteryx and the story behind Dinosaurs Take Flight.

flying out

Alanna sat in the aisle seat listening to ” Feathers” on her headset while Nic stared out the window thinking moments ago his feet were firmly planted on the ground and now he is soaring through the clouds. What took him 3 hours to achieve took dinosaurs over 100 million years.


Alanna and Nic landed in Malpensa, gathered their bags and cleared customs. They took to the streets of Milan, Italy to find the legendary origin of flight. Continually lost and unfamiliar with the language they came to realize the difficulties ahead.

Da Vinci - Copy

As expected, Nic and Alanna found the secrets of the origin of flight housed in Milan. Unfortunately they were not those of Avian flight, but instead, those of Human. Much like Archaeopteryx, Da Vinci never mastered flight but seemed to be on the right path.


Although flight was not to be found in Italy Nic and Alanna could not leave the beauty of the country. They moved south to Umbria to the city of Perusia.  A city on the hills built vertically out of the valley with a wealth of Renaissance art. But, the intoxicating allure of Italy must be left behind as they travel north to Munich, Germany to continue the quest for Archaeopteryx.

Altdorf - CopyThey moved north out of Perusia by train, traveling over the Dolomites through Austria and into Munich. From there Nic and Alanna traveled by car to Altdorf, Germany. As they entered the beautiful town gates they noticed the yellow sand stone in the local architecture and they knew they were nearing the land of the lithographic limestone, the sedimentary resting place of Archaeopteryx, Solnhofen.


A visit to Eichstatt led to the discovery many quarries. The iconic resting place of the London and Berlin specimens have long since been reclaimed and turned back to fields of hay and feed. There still exists, however, the industry of stone tiling and therefore the quarries of Solnhofen shale.


Jura MuseumAfter leaving the quarries they traveled down the winding road, dropping over the cliffs of limestone to the valley floor. Standing in Eichstatt they peered up the hillside through the dense Bavarian fog. In the center of the valley rose the Jura-museum, the current home of the Eichstatt Archaeopteryx.After leaving the quarries they traveled down the winding road, dropping over the cliffs of limestone to the valley floor. Standing in Eichstatt they peered up the hillside through the dense Bavarian fog. In the center of the valley rose the Jura-museum, the current home of the Eichstatt Archaeopteryx.

EichstadtA drive up Burgstrasse led Nic and Alanna through the castle gate and down the long tunnel. They emerged into the courtyard of Willibaldsburg castle and were surrounded by walls of Solnhofen limestone. Upon entering the Jura-Museum they passed a wealth of amazing fossils but found one of the jewels of flight, the Eichstaett Archaeopteryx.

Eichstadt cathedral

Before Nic and Alanna left Eichstaett they had one last stop. The Solnhofen limestone can not only preserve the delicate structure of an interwoven feather but also has the strength to be sculpted into the beautiful vaulted arches of the Eichstaett cathedral. Alanna stood in the architectural beauty; she noticed an ammonite in one of the floor stones and wondered how many other fossils are hidden in these walls.

fieldAs they left Eichstaett they drove along the Altmuhl river and past the freshly tilled fields. The Bavarian October fog hung over head obscuring the distant mounds of overburden, on down the road lays the Gemeinde Solnhofen, the home of two more objectives in the quest for Archaeopteryx.

chicken wing - CopyThe first specimen they came across in the Gemeinde Solnhofen was less impressive then the rest but makes up for it in the name, the “Chicken Wing.” Nic and Alanna peer into the case and realize… … its time for lunch.



After a quick lunch, where they had no chicken wings, Alanna and Nic returned to see the largest of the archaeopteryx treasures, the Solnhofen specimen, a very impressive example of Archaeopteryx minus the feathers. To find the wonderful plumage that sparked the debate over the origin of flight it is off to Berlin.


Since the discovery of the origin of flight Germany has come a long way in understanding the principals of lift. On Nic and Alanna’s travels to Berlin they passed examples of Bernoulli’s principle with Germany’s progressive energy initiative. The blades of wind generators fly through the air bringing to light flight in its modern form.

Berlin line - Copy

Alanna and Nic arrived in Berlin, parked the car in the outskirts of the city, and proceeded in by foot and U-bahn. They emerged from the tunnels and stood on the front step of the Museum fur Naturkunde. They entered and went strait to the back of the line. Hundreds of SVP attendees had beaten them to the origin of flight. Now the end of the quest was in sight but still about an hour away.

Berlin - Copy

After traveling 6,500 miles over one month by way of planes, trains, automobiles, and feet Alanna and Nic now stand gazing through the glass. Looking back at them is a fossil with nearly perfect preservation of bird like feathers but the tail and teeth of a dinosaur. This Archaeopteryx was discovered in 1874 as the theory of evolution was polarizing the scientific community. Originally traded for a cow, it is now regarded as the crown jewel of paleontology. The Berlin specimen still stands as the most beautiful, intriguing, and iconic fossil in the origin of avian flight.

11th - Copy

Alanna and Nic were relaxing after the excitement of seeing the Berlin specimen. They felt there quest for Archaeopteryx was complete. Then the phone rang, while they were at the Bürgermeister Müller Museum in Solnhofen there was one empty case that read “eleventh specimen of Archaeopteryx coming soon,” it had arrived! Now before they could leave Germany there had to be one last stop.

Flying home

Mission complete! Nic and Alanna took flight after their success on the quest for Archaeopteryx. They found the origins of human flight in Italy, developed by Da Vinci in his continual study of birds, a.k.a. Aves. Then in Germany they discovered the origins of avian flight. The Archaeopteryx has revealed both the skeleton of a dinosaur and the plumage of a bird. Alanna and Nic now soared above the clouds realizing what has made all this possible started with a small feathered dinosaur.


After our invaluable trip through Germany, gathering photos, video, design ideas, and knowledge, Alanna and I have returned to our home in the Rocky Mountains. The winter has come and there is only one more piece to the puzzle, retreat to the wood shop and build our exhibit.



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