The Story of a Dinosaur Named SUE (cont.)
Part 3 - Initial Preparation
We started the preparation immediately. Before Pete even arrived back in Hill City, I had taken off part of the plaster jacket to expose the right side of the skull, and started cleaning her bones with an air abrasive unit using sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). Through all our years of experience, we had discovered that this was the best way to prepare dinosaur bones from the Hell Creek Formation.
Because of our work schedule which required preparing items for sale to pay the bills, I was reluctantly pulled from the preparation of SUE. We selected one person to work on her full time - Terry Wentz.
From the moment we arrived home with SUE, we began telling the whole world of this fantastic and fabulous find. Dozens of newspaper and magazine articles were written telling the world, as Terry worked on her, about SUE's wonderful secrets that were coming to light.
Over the next many months, Terry would walk every day from his trailer (15 feet away from Rex Hall) back to SUE's room to work on the Twentieth Century's greatest paleontological find. Every day, Pete, Bob, and I, and sometimes dozens of interested visitors, watched Terry do what we all wanted to do... work on SUE. During the next twenty months, more than two thousand visitors watched the preparation of SUE.
Whenever we had a free moment, Pete, Bob, and I took the miscellaneous and loose small packages we had collected and prepared their contents.
Soon after we began opening these packages we had so carefully wrapped and packed during SUE's excavation, we began to realize some absolutely remarkable things about this dinosaur. One major discovery was that SHE WAS NOT ALONE!
We had discovered the remains of several other dinosaurs with her during her collection but we did not recognize the connection. Now we were beginning to understand.
SUE was found with the remains of some other theropod (meat eating) dinosaur bones. When we cleaned them, we discovered that they were Tyrannosaurid! After closer examination and upon showing them to Phil Currie, we realized that we not only had SUE. We also had a baby, a juvenile, and another young adult T. rex. But these other bones were few... only one or two from each specimen. What happened to the rest of their skeletons? Perhaps the young adult's partial tibia and fibula (lower leg bones) offered the best clue. The tibia and fibula had been broken off soon after death, and had serrations and other tooth marks on their surface, caused by T. rex teeth. Perhaps these other T. rexes had been killed, and mostly eaten by yet another T. rex. Who knows where the rest of their bones may have ended up? Maybe they are still somewhere else in that large hill on Maurice's land.
Other interesting finds included acid etched bones from an Edmontosaurus, the duckbilled dinosaurs that we had been digging at the Ruth Mason Quarry. These were undoubtedly SUE's stomach contents, the first occurrence reported for a T. rex. Everyone knew what T. rex ate, but apparently their stomach acid was so strong, it dissolved most of the bones before the animal decomposed.
In October of 1991, Pete attended the annual Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists (SVP) meeting, and reported these and many other incredible finds. At the meeting, he also did something totally unheard of in the carefully guarded world of paleontology. He invited any and all interested researchers and scientists to come to Hill City and help us unravel all SUE's wonderful mysteries.
By early 1992, thirty-four paleontologists signed up to study SUE and produce a monograph on T. rex, that would cover everything from their osteology (study of bones) to their muscles, brains, nerves, behaviors, and their paleoenvironment. This was to be the ultimate scientific paper on the ultimate dinosaur.
Meanwhile the preparation of SUE continued. We prepared her arm, and sent the bones to the Denver Museum of Natural History for Ken Carpenter to study. Ken is an expert in dinosaurs and reptiles. He and other researchers discovered that this "useless" arm (as they had been characterized for decades) was actually very strong - more than twice as strong as the Museum of the Rockies' T. rex arm, which was calculated to be able to lift 450 pounds.
We also sent the plants we collected at the SUE site, to Dr. Kirk Johnson, a Cretaceous Paleobotany expert, also at the Denver Museum of Natural History, for him to study.
We opened SUE's tail casts to prepare and expose her injuries. We prepared one side of her tibia and fibula, her foot, and some of the bones of the animals found with her, the turtle skull, a partial skeleton of a Thescelosaurus, and parts of a crocodile.
Terry worked diligently on the skull block, trying to separate the skull from the remaining matrix (surrounding rock) and bones, so we could take the skull to Huntsville, Alabama, to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center to be CAT scanned. This would reveal secrets about T. rex and about SUE that we would otherwise have no way of knowing.
Pete, Terry and Andrew Leitch, an expert in CAT scanning, would accompany SUE to NASA. SUE was scheduled to leave for Alabama during the week of May 18, but something happened that dramatically altered this plan and the rest of our lives.
SUE T. rex Story
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