The Eleven And Only T Rexes

1.Thefirstdiscoveryof a T. rex, in 1900 by Barnum Brown in western Wyoming. Originally named Dynamosaurus imperiosus by Dr. Henry Fairfield Osborn, the specimen is now in the British Museum of Natural History in London.

2. The type specimen of T. rex, found in 1902 by Barnum Brown in Garfield County, Montana, named by Dr. Henry Fairfield Osborn in 1905. On display at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this T. rex is 50 percent complete.

3. T. rex excavated in 1907 and 1908 by Barnum Brown in Garfield County, Montana. Missing fore and hind limbs. On display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

4. T. rex found in 1966 by Harley Garbani in Garfield County, Montana, for the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, where its skull is on display. The specimen is 60 percent complete. Garbani also found parts of two other T. rexes in Garfield County.

5. T. rex found in 1980 by Phil Bjork of the South Dakota School of Mines in northwestern South Dakota. Excavated by the School of Mines, the skeleton is 40 percent complete. The skull is on display in the university's museum.

6. In 1981, scientists at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller, Alberta, collected 30 percent of a T. rex, originally located by Charles M. Sternberg in central Alberta in 1946.

7. "Black Beauty," a second, more complete T. rex from southern Alberta, was found in 1981 by high school students and was mounted at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in 1992.

8. In 1981, Mick Hager of the Museum of the Rockies collected 40 percent—the whole hind end, but not the rib cage, skull, or neck—of a T. rex in eastern Montana.

9. In 1987, T. rex remains were discovered by collector Stan Sacrison outside Buffalo, South Dakota. In April 1992, Pete Larson of the Black Hills Institute in Hill City, South Dakota, excavated the site and found a T. rex at least 60 percent complete, including the first known specimens of the animal's tip-of-tail vertebrae.

10. In September 1988, Kathy Wankel discovered a T. rex, nearly 90 percent complete, in McCone County, eastern Montana. It was excavated in June 1990 by a Museum of the Rockies crew. The specimen is on display during preparation at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana.

11. On August 12, 1990, Susan Hendrickson of the Black Hills Institute discovered a T. rex specimen in western South Dakota. Excavated that month, the fossil is now impounded by the FBI at the South Dakota School of Mines. "Sue" is at least 90 percent complete and is the largest known T. rex. If the institute wins custody of the disputed T. rex, it will be displayed in the institute's planned museum, as will T. rex discovery #9.

museum our troubles were far from over," Brown told his assistant, Roland Bird. "The skull and limbs worked out easily but the pelvis and some of the connecting vertebrae were encased in a hard iron concretion," ironstone that Brown's assistant had to "take out in the yard and knock off with hammer and chisel." It took three summers for Brown and his crew to dig out all of the giant, working with picks and dynamite.

Osborn wrote five papers on T. rex, based on Brown's finds. When these finds were combined, they left only the hands and tail of T. rex a mystery. Osborn guessed about those, and guessed wrong. He gave T. rex three-fingered hands, like those of an Allosaurus, a huge predator nearly 80 million years more ancient than T. rex. And Osborn figured T. rex's tail several feet too long. But without more T. rex to go by, Osborn had made some pretty reasonable speculations.

The second successful T. rex hunter wasn't a paleontologist, and he didn't work for an eastern museum. Harley Garbani is a plumber. He's in his seventies now and lives in a trailer park in the San Jacinto Valley, south of Los Angeles. I've met him a few times out in Montana, and it was a great honor for me. That's because Harley is also the world's leading discoverer of Tyrannosaurus rex.

Harley grew up on a farm in the San Jacinto Valley. Like me, he found his first fossil when he was just a kid, eight or nine. His wasn't a dinosaur—it was a piece of camel leg. That find hooked Harley on fossil collecting. He kept hunting through high school and after marriage and World War H, in the deserts of southern California and northern Mexico. He got so good at finding stuff, the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History hired him to collect for them in the summertime. In 1965, the museum had the good sense to send Harley, his wife, and daughter to look around eastern Montana where Barnum Brown had discovered the first T. rex.

Harley wasn't looking for T. rex only. "I'd collect every fossil from mice to T. rex. I loved just beatin' the bush." Beating around Lester Engdhal's ranch in the

the next great t. rex hunter after brown is this gentleman. california plumber harley garbani.

Hell Creek Formation badlands north of Jordan on July 27, 1966, Harley came upon "the damn thing"—some large foot bones sticking out of a bank. Right away, Harley knew he was onto T. rex. (And more, he also found an Albertosaurus buried with it!)

"I was pretty excited. I didn't figure another of those suckers would be found," Harley said. And he was pretty sure he'd found one. "I'd seen enough of Trachodon [a dubiously named duckbill] to know this was something bigger."

"Possible very adult Tyrannosarus [sic] limb, tarsal & toes," Harley wrote in his field notes that day. By the summer of 1970, Harley's crew of local volunteers and high-schoolers had dug up a well-preserved T. rex, but in a jumble of bones that made up only about 30 percent of the animal's skeleton. Those remains did include the outstanding skull, nearly 75 percent complete.

The skull Harley excavated is now on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, and it is the biggest T. rex head on view anywhere, nearly five feet long.

Harley found still more T. rex when he went back to the Hell Creek Formation in 1977 prospecting for the University of California, Berkeley. Berkeley's expert paleontologist Bill Clemens (Bill works primarily on fossil mammals) had told him of a promising site on the slope of a hill. Harley investigated and found the upper jawbone (maxilla) of a T. rex, even bigger than the first he'd found a decade earlier. He found one huge piece of a leg and a lot of fragments, but it didn't add up to much of a dinosaur.

In 1982, Harley came upon yet another T. rex in a hillside in the Hell Creek Formation while he was working for the University of California. This one had two "good-sized" upper and lower jaws. As for why he's found three T. rexes when less than a dozen are known in a century of prospecting, Harley says, "I'm just a pretty lucky fella. They're so rare, it's just a privilege to find them."

Phil Bjork of the South Dakota School of Mines found

a T. rex in northwestern South Dakota in 1980. That one is about 40 percent complete, with most of the skeleton coming from the skull and neck. The texture of the bone is weak and in a poor state of preservation.

In eastern Montana the following year, Mick Hager, former director of the Museum of the Rockies, found parts of a T. rex—hind legs and most of a tail. Those bones are in our study collection at the museum. We also have an isolated skull, disarticulated, which was collected by an archaeologist digging in the Hell Creek Formation in the 1960s.

T. rexes have been found north of Montana in Alberta, Canada. The first was actually discovered in central this alberta t. rex is on display at the world's largest fossil museum, the royal tyrrell museum in drumheller. alberta.

phil currie is the tyrrell's senior dinosaur scientist, one of the world's experts on carnivorous dinosaurs, including T. rex, and my pal.

Alberta in 1946 by Charles M. Sternberg. Sternberg and his father and two brothers were the greatest fossil-collecting family of all time. The father, Charles H. Sternberg, was a minister's son from rural New York who thought he could find dinosaurs by time-traveling mentally into dinosaur days. It sounds wacky, but Sternberg senior turned into Barnum Brown's chief competitor as a dinosaur finder.

The T. rex bones C. M. Sternberg found were stuck in hard ironstone near the top of a bluff outside the town of Huxley. Sternberg couldn't get at them, and no one else was able to for decades.

In 1960another great paleontologist, Wann Langston, came to the Huxley T. rex site. Wann was prospecting for the National Museum at Ottawa, Canada, when he saw parts of a badly broken-up T. rex skull at the base of the same cliff where Sternberg found the T. rex skeleton. Chances are both finds come from the same animal. So the rest of the T. rex skull may still be in the cliff top.

In 1981, a crew from the world's largest fossil museum, the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller, Alberta, came to excavate the Huxley T. rex. With jackhammers and pneumatic drills they pulled out the pelvis, hind limbs, and backbone from neck to tail of a T. rex. This was a big T. rex., probably forty feet long. The Tyrrell crew tried to get at the skull end of the neck in the back wall of the quarry. But to do so safely they would have had to move another ninety feet of rock overburden, an overhwelming job for a few folks with hammers and drills.

My friend Phil Currie thinks he might be able to move that rock to get at the T. rex skull, and I don't doubt him. Phil is the Tyrrell's dinosaur paleontologist. He's one of the world's experts on predatory dinosaurs and an expert digger. Lately, he's gone to Australia to learn dynamiting techniques from Tom Rich, a dinosaur paleontologist at the Victoria Museum in Melbourne who blasts holes in cliff faces in southern Australia to find dinosaur remains. Until Phil dynamites and mines, no one's sure just how much of T. rex's skull lies in the Huxley cliff.

One other Canadian T. rex, "Black Beauty," was found in 1981 in southern Alberta by three high school kids. Once you get out to these foothills near the Crow's Nest River, these T. rex bones would be pretty hard to miss. Manganese has turned them deep black in the middle of reddish-white sandstone. Like the other Canadian T. rex,, this one was also locked deep in horribly hard rock. But this T. rex was close enough to ground level that it could be taken out by bulldozer. The skeleton is now on display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum. At first no one thought there was much of a skull left, but when one fossil block was flipped over and cleaned in the lab, it turned out to hold an almost intact skull. The size of the beautiful black head, nearly five feet long, suggests it belonged to a forty-foot-long T. rex.

The biggest T. rex of them all is the newest find, "Sue." Sue is named for Susan Hendrickson, a former field collector for a company that finds, cleans, and sells fossils—the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City, South Dakota.

In August of 1990, a month after we took Kathy Wankel's T. rex out of the ground in Montana, Susan was out in the South Dakota badlands, north of the town of Faith, digging at a duckbill quarry with a Black Hills crew. Work had stopped for a day while their only vehicle was taken to town for repairs. Susan went for a walk to look at a hillside near where the crew had found some pieces of a Triceratops skull a few miles from camp. She saw some vertebrae, still articulated, some ribs, and another large bone weathering out of the side of a cliff. Susan took two huge vertebrae, several inches wide, and brought them back to the crew. They walked back to the hillside where she found them and saw part of the pelvis and several backbones sticking out of the ground.

From the size and shape of the bones, Pete Larson, president of Black Hills Institute, knew at once Susan had found a T. rex. Three Black Hills workers went to

meet "sue" the t. rex, or at least her head, as it was exposed in south dakota.

work on digging and made a pretty big hole, twenty-nine feet deep and twenty-five feet wide. In two weeks they had the whole T. rex out in blocks that weighed as much as nine thousand pounds.

Back at their lab, they realized they had most of a T. rex., mcluding only the second front limb ever found (ours was the first) and thirty-five of the tail vertebrae. That's more than twice what we've got of our T. rex tail, and more tailbones than anyone has found (though not as many as Osborn invented for the American Museum T. rex display). Although our T. rex has more arm bones than Sue or any other T. rex., Sue has many parts our T. rex lacks—a complete foot, many more ribs, more of the skull, and all that tail.

With nearly all of Sue's tail intact, for the first time we can estimate accurately how long a T. rex was. The estimates before ranged from thirty-four feet to more than fifty feet. Now we know forty feet was more like it. And that's the length of the biggest T. rex in the world, so far. Sue is at least 5 percent bigger than any other T. rex known. Sue's thigh bone (femur) measures fifty-four inches long. That's three inches longer than those on the second and bigger of the Montana T. rexes Barnum Brown found, the T. rex in the American Museum in New York (according to Dr. Osborn's generous measurements).

Sue's skull is in terrific shape, black teeth still in massive jaws that aren't distorted. And her bones show all sorts of injuries that had healed over in the course of what must have been a long, rough life. Extra bone growth along the lower left shin indicates to Pete Larson that Sue had a broken leg that healed over, though it might also have suffered from osteoporosis, arthritis, or other bone diseases that we know dinosaurs had. There is a hole that might have been a drain for a cheek infection. There are parallel grooves along the pelvis, maybe from the raking bite or slash of another T. rex. Two vertebrae near the end of the tail were probably broken. They were found fused with extra bone around them. There is a rib incompletely healed from a frac ture. And there is a tooth still embedded in a rib, from a bite by another T. rex (which may have come after Sue's death). As I'm writing in 1993, Sue's cleaning is far from finished, and the specimen has been impounded by the FBI in an ownership dispute (more on that later), but it is clear that Sue is more than 90 percent complete.

A lot more came out of that quarry than just Sue. The T. rex's body seems to have acted as a trap for lots of leaves and the bones of other dinosaurs, from a litde hypsilophodont browser to parts of three other T. rexes.

Vertebrae and other bones of a big duckbill, an Edmontosaurus, were found with Sue. The bones looked etched and partially coated with ironstone. Pete Larson thinks they were stomach contents of a T. rex— remains of a partially digested meal. He also thinks he's found what's left from fully digested dinners—dinosaur excrement, which he's having analyzed.

Those conclusions may be difficult to substantiate. But what's more certain, and exciting, are the bones of other T. rexes found along with Sue's. There are the ends of two right leg bones of a second T. rex:, about 70 percent as long as Sue. This could be part of a subadult, a teenaged T. rex. Something, maybe another T. rex, gnawed on this one, as it shows bite marks on its tibia and fibula.

The left lachrymal, a bone at the front of the eye, of a third T. rex was found, one that would fit a skull about a foot and a half long, less than a third the size of Sue's— perhaps from a T. rex youngster.

Another skull bone was found that came from a skull less than a foot long—a T. rex baby! Of course, identifications from a bone or two are risky, and skull proportions no doubt changed as these animals matured. But Tyrrell expert Phil Currie, who knows T. rex skulls as well as anyone, finds these measurements believable.

Was this the burial ground for a family of T. rexes— parent and three children of different ages? It's possible. But it's more likely that the animals died at different times and places and washed into the same stream

prospector stan sacriston (right) is the man who found "stan" the t. rex.


Sue's excavation also produced some bones from other predators we don't see much of in the Hell Creek rocks. The dig turned up bits of smaller dinosaur carnivores, possibly a dromeosaur and a caenagnathid, as well as the skull of a turtle.

And in the spring of 1992, Pete Larson made yet another T. rex find. Actually, Stan Sacrison did. Stan's a fossil collector from Buffalo, South Dakota. Stan had found some eight feet of linked vertebrae leading into a hillside outside town five years before. Pete had gone out with Stan in January of 1992 to look at the site. As he told me, "I walked down the hill and right away said, 'Holy cow! Another T. rexV" For Pete the give-aways were "the distinctive vertebrae. They were hollow with a concave surface. They had to be from a big predator and they were too big for Albertosaurus."

Pete came back as early in spring as he could to dig up the site with his crew. They came upon the pelvis and some backbones that led to tailbones underground. The bones were locked in a very hard matrix of ironstone, but Pete managed to remove several blocks. His preparators are busy cleaning the stuff in the lab, but already they've found twenty-six loose teeth with roots, perfect for my former student Greg Erickson to work on for his bone growth research.

Pete also found a complete leg, at least ten ribs, a lot of the pelvis, and most of a skull, disarticulated. Now he's got one T. rex skull in each state of preservation— an intact skull from Sue and one in pieces, like ours. That's ideal for measuring individual bones and seeing how they fit together.

But this T. rex's skull wouldn't look quite like Sue's if it were put back together. The whole animal is quite a bit more lighdy built than Sue, more along the lines of our own T. rex. The difference in build may have implications forjudging dinosaur genders, and I'll get to that in Chapter 8. For now, let's just say if the first Black Hills T. rex was "Sue," Pete thinks this one is "Stan."

It seems like T. rexes are popping up everywhere. In May of 1992, Charles Fricke was out walking his dog in an empty lot next to his house in a subdivision outside Denver when he found a big bone. Mr. Fricke was pretty excited (and so probably was his dog). He's an amateur fossil collector, and he knew he'd found a fossil. He pete larson and crew take a photo opportunity around the skull of sue.

called the Denver Museum of Natural History, which sent a team out to collect the fossil. At the museum, preparator Ken Carpenter identified it as the distal end of the tibia (that's the bottom of the shin bone) of a T. rex. Museum crews dug farther in the lot, and they've found a femur (thigh bone), shoulder and ankle bones, stomach ribs, and parts of hip and leg bones. This is the farthest west anyone's ever found a T. rex.

The same month a young man, David Cobb, from another Denver suburb brought the Denver Museum a tooth of a T. rex he had found eight years before in his town.

I'm not surprised to hear there were T. rexes in Colorado, only that it's taken people this long to find parts of two of them. Now that there are a lot more knowledgeable people like Charles Fricke out looking for fossils, we're bound to find lots more T. rexes wherever in the West rock the age of the Hell Creek Formation is exposed.

What concerns me is that not all fossil collectors are as public spirited as Charles Fricke or Kathy Wankel. These days, dinosaurs are pretty fashionable, and a lot of people are collecting fossils to sell them. Some of these commercial fossil collectors cause serious problems for sue's namesake susan hendrickson points out the rock layer containing sue the t. rex, before the dinosaur was excavated.

paleontologists like me. They aren't very careful about excavating valuable fossils and keeping notes. They cater to the big market for fossils as decorator items and get high prices from individual collectors and foreign museums. Scientists like me and museums like the Museum of the Rockies can't pay those prices. And private landholders don't want to let scientists go after their fossils when a commercial collector will pay them a lot more to make them into trophies.

But there are others like Canada Fossil, a commercial collecting outfit that has been very cooperative with scientists. They sell only to museums, not to individuals. They never sell the "type," or namesake specimen of an animal, but give those to scientists. And they take great notes. They let us see all those notes and their bone discoveries, and they make casts of their finds if we need them even before they go to museums.

Pete Larson of the Black Hills Institute knows firsthand the mess you can get into collecting fossils. Pete was schooled in paleontology (he stopped just short of a master's degree). Like many commercial collectors, however, he's upset some paleontologists and government officials. They question whether he's obtained all his specimens from land where he had permission to dig.

Those doubts about Pete's collecting led to a bizarre incident on May 14,1992, when thirty FBI agents turned up at Black Hills Institute and confiscated Sue, the world's biggest T. rex.

Some folks have said Sue was found inside the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation and belongs to the Sioux, though Pete says he paid $5,000 for the rights to excavate the site from the landowner, a member of the tribe. "Will the Sioux sue for Sue?" wrote a clever Newsweek caption writer.

They didn't. But the tribe's leader did ask the assistant U.S. attorney in Pierre, South Dakota, to investigate Pete's collection of Sue. The U.S. attorney said Pete's taking Sue was a violation of the Federal Antiquities Act, which "prohibits outsiders from making contracts with

above: this is the black hills institute lab from which FBI agents confiscated sue.

left: sue's skull in the black hills institute lab with pete larson prior to the specimen's seizure.

people of the Indian community without Federal permission."

The U.S. attorney thinks the land is the government's because the landholder had placed it in trust with the U.S. government. According to Pete, this twenty-year trust, which expired in 1992, is a tax advantage, offered Native Americans for their lands, that should not affect fossil collection. Though the landowner still had mineral rights, if he sold an antiquity he was supposed to have federal permission. Pete should have gotten an antiquities permit before he started digging.

Whether T. rex is an antiquity is another story. It's certainly old, but the law was designed to protect archaeological artifacts. I wouldn't mind a bit if there was a clear new law protecting fossils found on state and federal lands. Some paleontologists are calling for a law nationalizing all fossils, on private or public lands, such as now exists in the province of Alberta in Canada, one of the richest places for dinosaur fossils in the world.

As I'm writing in the early winter of 1993, Sue the T. rex is under lock and key in a warehouse at the South Dakota School of Mines. It's going to take a judge to spring her.

Pete's the one who has sued, both the government and the Sioux, to get Sue back. The Sioux asked me long before the FBI stepped in to look at the land where Sue was found. I told them I thought it was on Sioux land. Other than that, I've not had a lot to do with the mess.

If you ask me, and nobody has, the whole deal is pretty ridiculous. Fossils should be public property, and entrusted to scientific institutions to study. Period. And until some judge settles the question of who gets Sue, it could have stayed just where it was, in Pete's lab. Nobody's going to walk off with a tyrannosaur.

Whoever gets her, I'd be relieved to know that the bones of Sue, like those of other T. rexes, will be around for us to study.

chapter 4

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  • jayden
    How clever were trexes?
    2 years ago

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