13. The Compsognathus Skeleton, 1861


Compsognathus longipes was the first reasonably complete dinosaur skeleton ever found. It was discovered in the lithographic limestone of Solnhofen, Bavaria, and described and named in this paper by Wagner. The specimen was apparently a juvenile, but even the adult form is not very large. This discovery of Compsognathus, with its many bird-like features, would shortly lead anatomists such as T. H. Huxley to propose a close affinity between birds and dinosaurs. The near-simultaneous discovery of Archaeopteryx would add considerable weight to the argument.

Wagner illustrated his description with a large folding lithograph of the Compsognathus skeleton still emerging from its limestone matrix. This plate, as well as the lithograph of Archaeopteryx in item 14, demonstrates the unique ability of the lithographic medium to capture the appearance of a slab of stone and its embedded fossil.

Wagner did not notice, or at least his drawing did not reveal, the presence of a small reptile skeleton within the ribs of Compsognathus. Both Othniel C. Marsh and Baron Nopcsa would later offer interpretations of this skeleton within a skeleton.


Wagner, Andreas. "Neue Beitrage zur Kenntnis der urweltlichen Fauna des lithographischen Scheifers," in: Abhandlungen der Mathemat.-Physikalischen Classe der Koeniglich Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, vol. 9 (1861), pp. 65-124. This work was on display in the original exhibition as item 13.

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