A flat tire is an everyday occurrence, but what happens when such an occurrence leads to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? This happened once in the Summer of 1990…
A Summer to Remember
It was the blazing hot Summer of 1990, on the Cheyenne Indian Reservation in western South Dakota. Paleontologist had come to the reservation to excavate fossils, paying a Native America $5,000 to excavate on a tract of land near the town of Faith. They began their work in the Black Hills…
Small Find and Ready to Go
Over the course of the summer, the paleontologists found little. But as the summer was drawing to a close, they managed to find a small windfall of bones, including some duck-billed Edmontosaurus bones. They felt this was a satisfactory haul, and prepared to leave…
Got a Flat!
…But as fate would have it, a flat tire prevented them from leaving! Far from civilization, a bunch of the paleontologist began walking towards the town of Faith to get the car repaired.
Off on Her Own
While most of the paleontologists were in town, Sue Hendrickson, an archeologist, decided to use the extra time to explore the surrounding area. Some nearby cliffs caught her attention, and as she approached the base of the cliffs, she spotted what looked to be a fragment of bone…
More to Find
Excited by this initial find, Sue the began examining the face of the cliffs. She quickly discovered that there appeared to be larger bones buried in the cliffside! Armed with this new information, as well as two small bones fragments, Sue made her way back to tell the others.
Report to the Team
Sue reported her newly discovered finds to Peter Larson, the Black Hills Institute’s president. Based on the fragments Sue present Peter, he figured that what she had discovered was most likely the fossils of a Tyrannosaur Rex!
Exploring the Site
Now the whole team was at the site, examining everything to see what could be found. As they began working, they realized there were many more fossils than Sue could have predicted, and began digging feverishly. Order extra had to be ordered for the deluge of fossils being excavated, and they began to catalog their finds.
A Complete Find
Before this event, most excavated T.Rex skeletons were incomplete, usually missing more than half of their bones. Here, the skeleton the paleontologists were excavating was almost complete, as 90% of the bones were excavated, and over 200 of the T.Rex’s bones were preserved at the site. Some of the bones excavated had never been discovered before! The T.Rex skeleton was named in honor of its discoverer, Sue.
Never Before Seen
Parts of the T.Rex skeleton that had never been discovered before included a mostly complete tail, and well as both arms. The T.Rex’s skull was one of the biggest ever found, and contain the longest T.Rex tooth ever discovered. Razor sharp and around a foot long, you can imagine this deadly tooth ripping apart the duck-billed Edmontosaurus that the paleontologists had dug up in the weeks earlier.
Upon examining Sue the T.Rex’s remains, it was discovered that it had an injury to its arm, as well as a few broken ribs. Despite these hardships, the team concluded that Sue had probably perished due to sickness at an old age, and could have lived up to to be 100 years old! Considering this, alongside that the remains had lasted for thousands of years, is remarkable.
A Problem Arises
Once the excavation was complete, the paleontologists began to wrap up the bones in burlap and cover them in plaster, in preparation for them to be sent to the Black Hills Institute. However, there was a problem: These T.Rex bones might not have belonged to the paleontologists.
The fossils were sent to the Black Hills Institute, but the land’s owner, Maurice Williams, objected, saying the $5,000 he had been paid was only for the right to dig on his land, not to remove something like a T.Rex skeleton. Williams wanted to be paid for those remains as well.
A Tribe’s Property
Williams was a member of the Sioux Tribe, and claimed that because he had not been paid for any fossils discovered, the fossils belonged to the tribe. The land had originally been deeded to the tribe, and Williams claimed what was found on that land belonged to the tribe.
Peter Larson and his team had a response to this claim: They said that the land in which the T.Rex was found was actually owned by the US Government, and was being held in a trust. They claimed that the US Government owned the T.Rex fossil. Due to the dispute, in 1992, the FBI seized the remains until the rightly owner was found.
A Trial Takes Place
The dispute resulted in a three-year trial, at the end of which it was determined that Maurice Williams was the rightful owner fo the T.Rex fossil. Since the land was his, he had a right to keep his property from being taken. In 1995, the fossil was returned to him.
While Williams had his property back, he quickly realized it wasn’t doing him much good just sitting around. He took action, contacting Sotheby’s about auctioning off the remains. However, many people were concerned that this would result in the T.Rex fossil ending up in a private collection, rather than being on display where all could enjoy it.
Museum to the Rescue
Enter the Field Museum in Chicago. They wanted the remains for their public collection, but didn’t have the money to compete with the super-rich who they knew would be at the auction. They started a fundraising campaign in order to get in on the action.
Thankfully, a whole slew of corporation threw in some mega-bucks to help out, including McDonald’s, Ronald McDonald House Charities, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, and the California State University system, as well as individual donors.
The auction occurred on October 4, 1997, and the Field Museum acquired the bones for $7.6 million.
The Field Museum displays Sue today, although the skull is not real, due to the real skull’s 600-pound weight. Sue’s actual skull sits on a balcony overlooking the skeleton.