Documentary about “Sue” the Tyrannosaurus rex in Selected Cinemas from Today

August 12th 1990 and a team from the Black Hills Institute of South Dakota, were doing what they do best, working in the field in the middle of jacketing a partial Triceratops skull that had been painstakingly excavated by removing the overlaying South Dakotan hillside rock by rock.  Susan Hendrickson, one of the team members, had slipped away from the main dig site to go scouting to see what else was slowly eroding out of the sixty-seven million year old sediment…

Just a typical day for the field team, carefully working away to extract fossilised dinosaur bone that had been entombed for millions of years.  However, what took place that afternoon was to have a significant impact on  the science of palaeontology, it changed the lives of everyone involved and the story is told in the documentary film “Dinosaur 13” which is released in the UK today.

When Pete Larson, palaeontologist, fossil collector/dealer and President of the Black Hills Institute for Geological Research (to give Pete and the Institute their full titles), looked up and saw Susan returning in the 100 degree heat he was in for quite a shock.  Sue held out her hand and revealed what she had found, two small, brown coloured, honey-combed lumps – to the casual observer not much to look at, but for “Palaeo Pete” one of the most knowledgeable people on the planet when it comes to Late Cretaceous Theropod dinosaurs, he knew exactly what these fragments of bone represented.

 The First Hints of a Tyrannosaurus rex Fossil Discovery

The inside of T. rex vertebrae is riddled with holes.

The inside of T. rex vertebrae is riddled with holes.

Picture Credit: Peter Larson

The bone fragments were light and hollow, the honeycomb texture is called camellate structure and it is found in the vertebrae of birds and Theropod dinosaurs.  What Sue had discovered eroding out of a cliff face some two miles or so from the Triceratops, was the fossilised remains of that most famous of all the dinosaurs – Tyrannosaurus rex.

“Dinosaur 13” documents the story of the discovery of the T. rex named “Sue” (after Susan Hendrickson), which turned out to be one of the most complete specimens of this iconic animal ever found and indeed, the biggest tyrannosaurid ever discovered.  Two years later, when the FBI and the National Guard showed up, battle lines were drawn over ownership of Sue.  The United States government, world-class museums, Native American tribes, and competing palaeontologists became the Goliath to Larson’s David as he and his team from the Black Hills Institute fought to keep their dinosaur and wrestled with intimidation tactics that threatened their freedom as well.

Sue Hendrickson Photographed Next to the Jaws of the Tyrannosaurus rex

Sue Hendrickson next to her  T. rex namesake.

Sue Hendrickson next to her T. rex namesake.

Picture Credit: Peter Larson

This ninety-five minute documentary chronicles an unprecedented saga in American history and details the fierce battle to possess a relic from the Late Cretaceous.  It’s a sort of custody battle, one that involves a huge, predatory dinosaur, a female to boot, with fifty-eight huge teeth in her immense jaws.  With consummate skill, director Todd Miller excavates layer after layer, exposing human emotion in a dramatic tale that is as complex as it is fascinating.

We have had the great pleasure of meeting Pete Larson, the story of “Sue” will help to highlight some important issues surrounding the excavation of fossils and how best to go about preserving fossil material.  We have not had the chance to view the documentary yet, (hopefully soon), but with Peter, his enthusiasm and love of what he does comes across very clearly.  He and his team are passionate palaeontologists and they have done much to help in our understanding of the ancient ecosystem represented by the sedimentary deposits of the western United States.

At Everything Dinosaur, we might not necessarily agree with the some of the media straplines heralding the Tyrannosaurus rex fossils as being the “one of the greatest discoveries in history”, however, we suspect that “Sue” now on permanent display at the Field Museum in Chicago (Illinois), has inspired many millions of young dinosaur fans to learn more about these amazing creatures.

The documentary is on release in selected cinemas from today (15th August), for further details visit the website of the documentary’s distributors: DogWoof where further information about the film and a list of venues showing the film can be found.

Neal Larson (Black Hills Institute) with “Sue’s” Lower Leg Bones – Left Leg

The red arrow points to a suspected healed break in the left fibula of "Sue".

The red arrow points to a suspected healed break in the left fibula of “Sue”.

Picture Credit: Peter Larson

As for the documentary’s title, why dinosaur 13?  The answer is simple, these fossils represent the thirteenth T. rex discovered, ironic really as the number thirteen is associated with bad luck in much of the western world and it could be argued that for Pete Larson and his colleagues 13 proved to be a very unlucky number indeed.

Dinosaur 13 Trailer

Video Credit: Youtube

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