The Sunday Post (Newcastle)

How flat tyre led to the find of most complete T-Rex skeleton ever

- By Tim Knowles

It is the landmark discovery that every palaeontol­ogist dreams of – but might never have happened if it were not for a flat tyre.

For on August 12 1990, fossil collector Sue Hendrickso­n discovered the most complete skeleton of a Tyrannosau­rus Rex known to science.

During the summer of 1990, a group of workers from the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, a private fossil hunting firm, searched for fossils at the Cheyenne River Indian Reservatio­n in western South Dakota near the city of Faith. By the end of the summer, the group had discovered bones belonging to an Edmontosau­r, a type of duck-billed dinosaur, and was ready to leave.

However, a flat tyre was discovered on their truck before the group could depart on August 12. While the rest of the group went into town to repair the truck, Hendrickso­n decided to explore the nearby cliffs the group had not checked.

Hendrickso­n was an explorer and fossil collector. After dropping out of school at 17, she became a diver, exploring shipwrecks, later moving to the Dominican Republic where she became involved in palaeontol­ogic. Hendrickso­n then met a team of paleontolo­gists including Peter Larson, and it was with Larson that she joined the Black Hills Institute.

While her colleagues went off to repair the flat tyre, Hendrickso­n went for a walk along the base of a cliff, and discovered some small pieces of bone.

She looked above her to see where the bones had originated, and observed larger bones protruding from the wall of the cliff. She returned to camp with two small pieces of the bones. Larson determined the bones were from a T-Rex by their distinctiv­e contour and texture. Hendrickso­n and a few other workers returned to the site and began to dig.

Previously discovered T-Rex skeletons were usually missing more than half of their bones, but this time more and more bones were found, until the skeleton was 90% complete. Scientists believe the T-Rex was covered by water and mud soon after its death, preventing animals from carrying away the bones.

Soon after the fossils were found, a dispute arose over their legal ownership. The institute had obtained permission from the owner of the land, Maurice Williams, a member of the Sioux tribe, to excavate and remove the skeleton, and paid him $5,000 for the remains. Williams later claimed the money had not been for the sale of the fossil and he had only allowed Larson to remove and clean the fossil.

After a lengthy civil case, the court found in Williams’ favour. Williams then decided to sell the remains, prompting concern the

fossil would end up in a private collection, out of sight of the public.

The Field Museum in Chicago was also concerned about this possibilit­y, and decided to attempt to purchase the fossil. Unable to raise sufficient funds, it requested help from companies and private citizens.

On October 4 1997, bidding began at £500,000. After 10 minutes, the Field Museum secured the remains with the highest bid of $7.6 million, with funds donated by Disney Parks and Resorts along with McDonald’s and Ronald McDonald House Charities, among others.

The fossil went on display at the Field Museum in May 2000. It has been named Sue, in honour of the woman who found it.

 ?? ?? Tyrannosau­rus skeleton named Sue after its finder, Sue Hendrickso­n, at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.
Tyrannosau­rus skeleton named Sue after its finder, Sue Hendrickso­n, at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

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