It was on today’s date, August 12, in 1990 that workers from the Black Hills Institute thought that they were finishing their work for the summer. They had been working on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in Western South Dakota and had found what they were looking for, fossils relating to the duck-billed dinosaur Edmontosaurus and were preparing to leave when their truck developed a flat tire. So while they were fixing this flat, one of their field collectors, one Susan Hendrickson took a look around some of the nearby cliffs which they had not explored. While “fossil prospecting” in this area, an eroded cliff outside Faith, South Dakota…
“Susan spotted something. There on the ground were some dark brown pieces of bone. Two of the pieces were chunks about two inches long. Susan looked up at the cliff to see where these pieces had come from. There, about eight feet above her head were more brown bones sticking out of the cliff wall. Excited, Susan climbed up. The bones sticking out of the cliff were huge. She could see three backbones, a leg bone and a rib. The bones were hollow, which showed that they came from a meat-eating dinosaur.” – Pat Relf
” ‘By their shape I knew the specimen had been a meat-eater,’ says Hendrickson, ‘and by their size I knew it could only be a T. rex.’ ” – Donovan Webster
What Ms. Hendrickson had happened upon was only the largest intact skeleton of a “T. rex” ever discovered, before or since. And while a good deal of legal wrangling lay ahead for the ownership of the monster, it was immediately and ever after named “Sue” after the woman who had found her.
The Mighty and Terrifying “T. rex”!!
The “Tyrannosaurus” meaning “tyrant lizard” from Greek word “tyrannos”(τύραννος), meaning “tyrant”, and the Greek word “sauros” (σαῦρος), meaning “lizard” comes from the genus of “coelurosaurian theropod” dinosaur. However, it is as the species “Tyrannosaurus rex” (“rex” meaning “king” in Latin) most often abbreviated into “T. rex“, that this fearsome beast has come to be known in today’s popular culture. The T.rex was not the largest creature in the history of our Earth. But the T. rex was by far the biggest and baddest creature on the land portion of our planet coming in at @ 50 feet in length, 23 feet tall, and about 16,000 pounds in weight. It’s rule on Earth was confined to the “Maastrichtian” age during the upper “Cretaceous Period“, which was about 67 to 65.5 MILLION years ago. Possessed of razor sharp teeth (one of which on “Sue” was a full foot in length from root to tip) in a four foot long jaw, tiny, but heavily muscled arms, and olfactory bulbs (basically, smelling glands) which were as large as the rest of T.rex’s brain, this king of pre-historic beasts definitely stalked the world nose first. It was also equipped with powerful legs and huge feet which enabled this creature to travel at speeds which were likely a maximum of 25 mph. Whether this native of the North American continent was an active hunter, or primarily a scavenger remains a subject of debate among paleontologists. But let it suffice to say that in terms of size and viciousness the depiction of the T. rex in the 1993 film “Jurassic Park” was essentially accurate.
Well, for an old skeleton, “Sue” (although “her” actual gender has not been established) was certainly beset with legal travails early on in her second life. After “Sue’s” bones were discovered they were covered in plaster. wrapped in burlap and removed to the offices of the Black Hills Institute (BHI- a private company specializing in the excavation and preparation of fossils) wherein they were being cleaned. But dispute of the ownership of the bones arose, with the owner of the land on which they had been found, one Maurice Williams, claiming that he had been paid $5,000.00 by the BHI only for the excavation and cleaning of the bones and not for their sale. In time the FBI and the South Dakota National Guard seized the bones and kept them at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology while the matter worked it’s way through the Court System. In the end it was ruled by the Courts that Mr. Williams was in fact the rightful owner of the bones, and they were returned to him in 1995. In 1997 Mr. Williams put hem up for public auction at Sotheby’s Auction House and they were purchased by the Field Museum in Chicago with generous corporate and private help for a sum total of nearly $8,000,000.00
And it is at the Field Museum in Chicago where “Sue’s” mortal remains went and wherein they reside to this day (pictured, above). Over 90% of “Sue’s” bones were found which makes her the most complete T.rex skeleton ever found. The Mc Donalds Co. (yes that’s as in Ronald McDonald!!) payed for the construction of two new labs for the lengthy process of cleaning and restoring the bones. One of the labs was in the Field Museum and the other was in Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida (the Walt Disney Corp. was another one of the donors to the auction purchase). In this way, through glass ceilings on the labs, and through the Museum’s Website millions of members of the general public were able to watch the cleaning, the restoration of “Sue”, and the forming of plastic casts of the few of her bones which were not found. Ultimately, “Sue” was reconstructed into her original pose from which she continues to glower upon us weak humans across the millennia!!
T. rex (artist’s conception): http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Tyrannosaurus
At the Field Museum: http://www.autoberlesonline.hu/blog/2009/07/chicago-amerikai-egyesult-allamok/
The Field Museum Website page for “Sue the T.rex”= http://fieldmuseum.org/happening/exhibits/sue-t-rex
“Sue: The Story of the Colossal Fossil” by Pat Relf, Scholastic Company, New York, 2000.
“Debut Sue” by Donovan Webster, “National Geographic Magazine”, June, 2000, National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C.