Friday, March 3, 2017


Most wanderers make no mark.
Sue Hendrickson is a wanderer. She has been a diver, an explorer, and a collector of insects encased in amber (a la Jurassic Park) many of which have wound up in the collections of natural history museums and universities around the world.
In 1990 she was a fossil hunter. She was near Faith, South Dakota hunting fossils where she found three large bones sticking out of a cliff. At the time she was working for the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research. Further evaluation revealed a large skeleton, over 90 per cent complete, of a T. Rex.  Black Hills Institute of Geological Research paid $5,000 to the land owner, Maurice Williams, for the right to excavate the dinosaur skeleton, which was cleaned and transported to the company headquarters in Hill City. They named the dinosaur "Sue," after her. It was the largest Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever discovered.
In 1992, a long legal battle began over Sue. The U.S. Attorney’s Office claimed Sue’s bones had been seized from federal land and were therefore government property. It was eventually found that Williams, a part-Native American and member of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, had traded his land to the tribe two decades earlier to avoid paying property taxes, and thus his sale of excavation rights to Black Hills had been invalid.
When ownership was finally awarded to Williams after a protracted legal battle he put the skeleton up for auction. In October 1997, Chicago’s Field Museum purchased Sue at public auction at Sotheby’s in New York City for $8.36 million. Sue’s skeleton went on display at the Field Museum in May 2000. The tremendous T. rex skeleton–13 feet high at the hips and 42 feet long from head to toe–is displayed in one of the museum’s main halls.

Sue’s extraordinarily well-preserved bones have allowed scientists to determine many things about the life of T. rex. They have determined that the carnivorous dinosaur had an incredible sense of smell, as the olfactory bulbs were each bigger than the cerebrum, the thinking part of the brain. In addition, Sue was the first T. rex skeleton to be discovered with a wishbone, a crucial discovery that provided support for scientists’ theory that birds are a type of living dinosaur.
The original discoverer, Hendrickson, and the original  researchers, the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, got nothing out of all this.
In 2005, Glamour magazine honored Hendrickson in their "Glamour Woman of the Year Awards."

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