Few creatures capture the human imagination like dinosaurs, especially the Tyrannosaurus rex.
The “tyrant lizards” were gigantic, fearsome and mysterious — and now they’re gone. They continue to hold a place in the collective psyche and fascinate fans of all ages whether in movies like “Jurassic Park” or in museums, where their enormous skeletons draw crowds who stand in awe of the steak-knife-sized teeth and razor-like claws.
And now a replica of Sue — the largest and most complete skeleton of a T. rex found to date — makes its stand at the Discovery Center of Idaho from Saturday, Jan. 21, to Sunday, May 7.
DCI’s center gallery will brim with all things dino during the exhibit. You can explore Sue’s Cretaceous environment of 67 million years ago through a touchable cast of Sue’s bones and other interactive exhibits about how T. rexes lived and died.
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“Sue is the Rosetta Stone for its species,” says Bill Simpson, head of collections for The Field Museum in Chicago, and one of the principal people who helped create the Sue exhibit. “It is the most famous fossil in the world.”
Simpson was part of the team that went to New York City in 1997 to see if Sue’s skeleton was in good enough shape for The Field Museum to consider buying. The museum, along with McDonald’s and Disney, purchased it for $8.4 million.
“We walked into the warehouse at Sotheby’s (auction house), and it was just amazing,” Simpson says. “It was still in the field dressing and surrounded by matrix (the rock it was found in), but I could tell this was a great find.”
In fact, it is one of the most important paleontological discoveries in history. Sue is the largest and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton known to exist. Sue’s skeleton is 90 percent complete. Most T. rex skeletons are about 60 percent complete.
Of course, the actual Sue is installed at The Field Museum. What will be in Boise is a dramatic, life-size cast made from the fossilized bones before the dinosaur was put together.
The find is named for Sue Hendrickson, a field paleontologist who found the bones on a commercial dig in South Dakota in 1990. (People ascribe feminine characteristics to this T. rex, but the dinosaur’s actual gender isn’t known.)
After a legal battle over the discovery’s ownership, The Field Museum bought Sue as a way to celebrate the millennium, Simpson says. The exhibit opened in May 2000.
Sue was 28 at the time of death. That also makes this the most mature T. rex skeleton around, “and she shows her age,” Simpson says.
The skeleton includes a tooth fragment from a rival T. rex embedded in a rib and a tear to the humerus. The lower left jaw is crushed. The T. rex suffered a broken leg and a gouge on the side of its skull, a wound that may have caused death.
The dinosaur died near a prehistoric river that was in flood stage. The remains were buried quickly by mud and silt that became fossilized rock over time and helped preserve the bones.
It took people working 30,000 hours simultaneously in labs at Disney World’s “DinoLand, U.S.A.” in Orlando, Fla., and in Chicago to remove the rock from around the fossilized bones.
Noted dinosaur exhibit fabricator Phil Fraley was working at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History, where he had assembled that museum’s stunning collection. Fraley resigned his position and started his own company, Phil Fraley Productions, in order to put Sue together for The Field Museum.
To date, Sue has been seen by more than 10 million people in Chicago, and by millions more through its touring exhibits around the globe. Scientists from everywhere travel to Chicago to study Sue.
The bones have been fully examined by computer tomography scanners — the skull was shipped to Detroit to go through a scanner big enough for a car’s engine — in order to study the T. rex’s mobility. It’s been part of a study about whether its small arms (each is the size of a human’s arm) had any use, and to gather more evidence that dinosaurs evolved into birds. Sue has a wishbone as well as birdlike limb-muscles and air sacs.
“Look at crows,” Simpson says. “They’re extremely smart, aggressive, predatory. I saw a video that showed a murder of crows chasing down a fox until it was exhausted. Then they killed and ate it. That’s very dinosaur-like behavior.”
Sue by the numbers
Years the bones spent buried under the mud stone and silt stone of an ancient riverbed.
Number of years humans have been on the planet.
Sue’s length from nose to tail.
Weight of Sue’s actual skeleton.
Weight of the cast replica that will be at DCI, including its metal infrastructure.
Sue’s estimated weight when alive.
The weight of Sue’s skull.
The size of Sue’s brain.
The number of Sue’s teeth.
7.5 to 12 inches
Length of Sue’s teeth.
Number of Sue’s bones. It is the most complete T. rex skeleton in existence.
‘A T. rex Named Sue’
Saturday, Jan. 21, to Sunday, May 7, Discovery Center of Idaho, 131 Myrtle St., Boise. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission: Mondays to Saturdays: $12 for ages 2 to 17, $15 for veterans and active military, $16 for 18 and older, free for younger than 2; Sundays: $9 for kids, $12 for military and $13 for adults. DCIdaho.org.