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At Chicago's Field Museum, one of the best Archaeopteryx specimens is currently on display. Darwin's theory of evolution was greatly supported by the 1861 discovery of the first Archaeopteryx fossil, which demonstrated that birds are the closest extant relatives of dinosaurs. For American science enthusiasts, this is a rare chance to see an Archaeopteryx, a dinosaur that once roamed what is now Europe, in a museum unlike any other located in a major Western hemisphere city.

Although it may seem odd that baby ducklings and Tyrannosaurus rex share a common ancestor, Archaeopteryx was instrumental in helping scientists make sense of this evolutionary leap.

Dr. Julian Siggers, president and CEO of the Field Museum, states that "Archaeopteryx is arguably the most important fossil ever discovered." "The Field Museum is excited to be able to study 'the Chicago Archaeopteryx' and share it with our visitors. This is our most significant fossil acquisition since SUE the T. rex."

The name Archaeopteryx, which means "ancient wing" in Greek, refers to a creature that shares characteristics with birds despite having a long, bony tail, claws on its wings, and a snout that is more reminiscent of a dragon than a sparrow. To begin with, the dinosaur is tiny. The specimen from Chicago is roughly pigeon-sized, but they can reach a maximum length of 20 inches. It also has asymmetrical feathers and hollow bones, such as a wishbone.

There are only twelve more fossils of this late Jurassic creature known to exist, and they are all in Europe. The Chicago specimen was discovered in Germany at the Solnhofen limestone deposit, just like the majority of those fossils. It was originally discovered in 1990 by private fossil collectors, who kept it until the Field Museum was able to acquire it in 2022. For the scientists' benefit, the fossil was largely still covered in rock when it was given to the museum. According to Dr Jingmai O'Connor, associate curator of fossil reptiles at The Field, "Occasionally the physical beauty of the specimen is prioritized over the scientific details when a fossil is prepared for the commercial fossil industry." However, because Connie Van Beek and Akiko Shinya of the Field Museum oversaw the project, they were able to preserve a wealth of minute details that are crucial to researchers studying this fossil.

The public can view the Archaeopteryx in a temporary exhibit that is open until June 7, 2024, following 1300 hours of labour by museum staff. Don't worry if you are unable to see our extinct feathered friend anytime soon. It will be on permanent display at the Field Museum beginning in September. 

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