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The Concise Story of Dinosaur 13 named "Sue"

Updated on December 8, 2014
The other "Sue" in its final home
The other "Sue" in its final home
Sue Hendrickson and "the find"
Sue Hendrickson and "the find"
Sue's teeth
Sue's teeth
The plateau where Sue found "Sue"
The plateau where Sue found "Sue"

It was a hot summer day, over 100 Degrees F, when a group of paleontologists hunting dinosaur remains in the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, in western South Dakota, not far from Hill City, had a flat tire in their truck. It was August 12th and not much had been found, all rather typical when fossil hunting. Most of the group had decided to walk into the town instead of just waiting for help. One of the those who stayed behind was a volunteer for the Black Hill's Institute. Her name was Sue Hendrickson.

Sue had decided to simply walk along a nearby plateau area to continue searching, after all, what else was there to do? The others who remained with Sue, just waited nearby the truck. As Sue walked along the base of the rocky plateau, she discovered small bits of fossils laying on the ground. She picked them up and mildly was excited. Up to this point, she had not even bothered to look at the side of plateau, her focus was towards the ground. Upon finding the fossils, he glanced up towards the side of plateau and shocked to see large fossilized bones protruding out from the plateau! Sue rushed back to the camp excited telling the others of the find. The others returned with Sue and were in awe, the piece Sue had found was an articulated vertebrae. As the others excavated over the next 17 days, the most complete T. Rex dinosaur was revealed, over 90% complete! Up to this time, only fragments had been found and only 12 of them. The skull was nearly five feet long and most of its teeth in place.

The find was named, "Sue", dinosaur 13, however, may or may not be female. T. Rex "Sue" lived 67 million years ago, and South Dakota was a lush, wet area where she was found. Also found in the area were sharks, fish, crocodiles. This points to that "Sue" died near a large river or ocean and its body was quickly smothered with mud and water, which was why most of it was intact away from other predators.

"Sue" is the largest T. Rex ever found, bone weight at almost 4000 lbs., and 40 feet long. The amazing find was so well preserved that even where its muscles attached to bone could be seen. Its height at the hip was 13 ft., and its living weight was near 7 tons! What is most interesting is that the skull and jawbone weighs 600 lbs. Its teeth ranged between 7-12 inches and could run at 15 mph. There is little doubt, Sue was a fierce entity to encounter and run from as all its senses were very keen, tuned to hunting.

The legalities of this important find were between three parties: the finders, the Indian tribe's land where it was found,and the U.S. Government. The owner of the land within the reservation sold the rights to excavate it for $5000. The Institute owners thought the price was the sale of the fossil and they owned it. The seller thought the $5000 was money for the right to remove the fossil. The sale of it not included. Because the owner of the land was part of the Sioux tribe, the tribe chimed in, it claimed the find was theirs! Of course, the U.S. Department of Interior was actually the real owner. But, the government here, acted as a trustee of Sue, until the legal battles were completed. Thus, the FBI and National Guard raided the Black Hills Institute, where the bones were being cleaned and cataloged, seizing them.

The court case ended in 1995 with the owner of the land winning all rights. He decided to sell the bones and used Sotheby's auctioneers. The auction was held in 1997. A group of interested parties formed a buying group (Disney, McDonalds, UC Trustees and others) for the Black Hills Institute. Bidding started at $500,000 and sold to the group for $7.6 million. The owner of the Institute went to federal prison for 18 months because he failed to use proper custom forms. "Sue" is now at the Chicago Field Museum.

"Sue" died at age 28. During her life, it had suffered broken ribs and damaged tendons. Most had thought it had died from bite marks on the skull and neck. However, most experts now think "Sue" died from starvation resulting from an infection of the throat caused by a parasite. The parasite, Trichomonas gallinae, was present then and usually infected birds. The infection would cause a severe swollen throat that actually constricts. Even monsters need to eat.


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