Paleontologists dedicate a huge portion of their lives to understanding what life was like for creatures like dinosaurs in ancient times. When they aren’t hunched over books and researching, they’re likely spending countless hours at dig sites under the boiling hot sun.
While this might not be something every person on Earth would choose to do with their time, paleontologists are truly doing important work. All of the time and effort they put into everything that they do leads to important breakthroughs in our understanding of how dinosaurs lived.
Unfortunately, mishaps do happen. When one plucky team of paleontologists was ready to leave a dig site, they found themselves with a flat tire. While she waited for the tire to be fixed, one scientist decided to go exploring one last time—and what she found changed the way we’ll think about history forever.
In 1990, a small group of paleontologists from the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in South Dakota traveled to the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation to dig for fossils. The scientists had asked for permission to excavate the site and paid its owner $5,000 for access to the grounds.
The tract of land where they were working was located near the city of Faith in South Dakota. They had high hopes for some pretty exceptional finds when they set out to dig for fossils, but they were disappointed to discover that the area contained almost nothing of scientific import. At least, nothing they could see…
The team was ready to pack it all in and head back to their own research facility. They’d piled into their truck with their equipment when they discovered that the vehicle had a flat tire. Exhausted and fed up, the team made their way into town for help, not knowing that this decision would change the face of their research—and history as we know it—forever…
One member of the team, Sue Hendrickson, decided to stay behind and wait for the group. She used this time alone to explore some of the foothills that the group had overlooked during their initial dig. She was starting to think that this was pointless, too… until she found a piece of bone!
Sue immediately began looking for more pieces of bone. At first, she thought maybe the small piece she found was just a fluke. Then she noticed a nearby cliff face and saw more, larger pieces protruding from its surface. This was an amazing sign! Sue immediately headed back to let everyone know what she found.
Once reunited with her team, Sue marched directly over to Peter Larson, the president of the Black Hills Institute, and showed him what she found. Peter was a veteran paleontologist and he knew exactly what he was looking at. It turned out that Sue had discovered the fossilized remains of a Tyrannosaurus rex!
The whole team moved over to the area where Sue found the visible bones. To their delight there were even more fossils that were visible on the cliffs. Sue was just so excited with her initial find that she hadn’t spotted them the first time!
Most Tyrannosaurus rex fossils that are discovered are missing more than half of their bones. Sue’s T-rex, who would be nicknamed “Sue,” was a record-breaker: more than 90 percent of the bones were present and intact! The team had even uncovered some bones that had never been studied before.
The dinosaur’s tail was was the most complete tail specimen ever discovered. The remains also included both of the T-rex’s arms, which was a first when it came to this species. At five feet long, the skull was the largest T-rex skull ever recorded, and hiding inside it was the longest T-rex tooth ever found.
Paleontologists who studied the dinosaur’s remains found that it had broken ribs and an injured arm, indicating that it lived a tough life. However, its massive size made it clear that it was an old predator, which meant that illness probably ended its life.
To think that such an amazing discovery might never have been made if that truck had not gotten a flat tire! It makes you wonder what other secrets of the past are hiding right under our noses…
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