Thermopolis' real dinosaur claim to fame comes from the discovery there of one of the best-preserved Archaeopteryx in the world. An Archaeopteryx is a small winged dinosaur related to birds, though its skeleton more resembles that of a small carnivorous dinosaur. That combination supported Charles Darwin's theory, as presented in 1859 in "On the Origin of Species," that, as a sign in the museum puts it, "if evolution had occurred, paleontologists should find extinct birds that were transitional between modern birds and reptiles."
"Unlike most other specimens, which were preserved on their side," the museum's explanation reads, "the Thermopolis Specimen died on its stomach, squishing it into a 'road-kill' posture as overlaying sediments compacted it. This position has allowed scientists to glimpse portions of the skull and limbs never before seen, but it can also make it harder for the average person to tell what they are looking at."
The sign explains that the creature's foot is precisely the same as that of a carnivorous dinosaur. "The ankle bones do not fuse, like in living birds, and the large roller-joint on the second toe show that Archaeopteryx had a hyper-extendable 'killer claw' like its cousin, Velociraptor.
"The skull is preserved in a three-fourths view, making the teeth harder to see, but letting scientists glimpse the bones of the palate. The four-pronged bone that supports the palate is like dinosaurs, and unlike the three-pronged palatine of modern birds.
"While Archaeopteryx has feathered 'wings,' the hand is fully functional three-clawed dinosaur hand, not the fused, almost immobile hand of modern birds."
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