During the summer of 1990, paleontologist Peter Larson and his team from the Black Hills Institute arrived at Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in search for fossils.
They didn’t have much luck until Aug. 12. On that fateful day, the team’s 1975 Suburban had a flat tire. While the rest of the team members were waiting for the truck’s flat tire to be repaired, Sue Hendrickson, one of the Institute’s paleontologists, embarked on a solo trip to the nearby cliffs.
As fate would have it, this impromptu walk turned out to be one valuable discovery. When Hendrickson was at the base of a cliff near Faith, South Dakota, she stumbled upon fragments of broken bones on the ground. She looked up, and saw three large bones sticking out of the cliff’s rock face. “It’s like winning the lottery 50 million times!” Hendrickson told Scholastic.
“There (were) a lot of broken bones dribbling down (and) about 8 feet up the side of the cliff, there were three articulated vertebrae and a couple of other pieces of bone sticking out,” she said, according to CNN.
Immediately, Hendrickson alerted the team, who all spent 17 days excavating the remains of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. It was determined that these remains, which were buried under 30 feet (approx. 9 meters) of rock, had been preserved for some 67 million years.
“… she was all there in one place, so we didn’t have to go looking for bones,” Hendrickson said.
The team nicknamed this amazing Tyrannosaurus “Sue” after Hendrickson. Previous discoveries of T-Rex skeletons were mostly lacking half of their bones, but “Sue” was almost complete. Over 90 percent of Sue’s skeleton was uncovered, making it the world’s largest, most complete, and best preserved T-Rex fossil even found.
“On Sue, we have approximately 300 bones … The last 8 inches of her tail and a couple vertebrae were missing, and that was all,” said Hendrickson. “I love her teeth. She really has big teeth.”
According to Larson, Tyrannosaurus “Sue” could have died after an attack by another T-Rex, noting its broken ribs and injured arm. It is speculated that Sue could have been 100 years old when she died.
As stated on History, through an analysis of Sue’s bones, scientists have determined that the tyrannosaurus had a wishbone, and olfactory bulbs larger than the cerebrum. Olfactory bulbs are for olfaction, or smelling. Its huge olfactory bulbs proved that the carnivorous dinosaur had a remarkable sense of smel.
The unearthed bones were protected with plaster casts. They were later transferred to the lab at Black Hills Institute, for the preparation of the bones, which took four years to complete.
“The cleaning took a team of more than 12 people four years in the prep lab,” Hendrickson said.
However, what followed was a lengthy dispute as to who was the rightful owner of the T-Rex. The T-Rex was found on Sioux tribal lands, and according to Maurice Williams, who’s a member of the Sioux tribe, he was claiming ownership of the T-Rex. However, the area where the fossil was found was held in trust by the United States government. So, the FBI ended up confiscating the find till the matter got sorted.
After a 3-year-long trial, the court ruled in favor of Williams. However, Williams just wanted to auction it off.
On Oct. 4, 1997, with the help of several financially able companies, the Field Museum purchased the T-Rex for $7.6 million.
Today, the 5-foot-long Sue, with her 2,000-pound (approx. 907 kg) skull and 58 teeth, is on display at the Field Museum in Chicago.