T. rex Skull Goes on Display

Burke Museum Hopes T. rex Skull Gives New Museum a “Head Start”

The partially prepared, jacketed skull of an adult Tyrannosaurus rex which wandered the plains of Montana some 66.3 million years ago has gone on public display at the Burke Museum (Seattle, Washington State).  One of only fifteen T. rex skulls known, the Hell Creek Formation specimen is described as “pristine” and is part of the fossilised remains of an individual animal, representing some 20% of the entire skeleton which was discovered on Bureau of Land Management land by two Burke Museum volunteers – Jason Love and Luke Tufts.  As a result, this Tyrannosaurus rex has been nicknamed “Tufts-Love Rex”.

Arriving at the Burke Museum (Washington State)

The T. rex skull fossil arrives at Burke Museum.

Arriving at the Burke Museum (T. rex skull specimen).

Picture Credit: Burke Museum

The Fossil Find of a Lifetime

The volunteers were exploring a sandstone ridge in northern Montana when they spotted several fragments of bone on the surface.  They followed the trail of tiny fossil bones until they came across a partly exposed vertebrae.  The size of the fossils and their honeycomb texture indicated to Jason and Luke that they had found the remains of a Theropod dinosaur.  The pair alerted their colleagues and what could be the most important excavation in the Museum’s one hundred and seventeen year history, began.

A Bone Fragment Showing the Typical Honeycomb Internal Structure (Theropod Dinosaur)

The tell-tale honeycomb structure of fossil bone indicates Theropod dinosaur.

A close up of the fossil bone shows the typical honeycomb structure indicative of a Theropod dinosaur.

Picture Credit: Jason Love/Burke Museum

Some twenty tonnes of rock has had to be removed to expose the disarticulated skeleton.  So far, teeth, ribs, vertebrae and that beautifully preserved skull have been identified.  The skull was removed in a single block, which in itself weighed more than a tonne.  A local farmer was called in to help provide the lifting gear to remove the plaster jacketed fossil.  The skull has gone on display at the Burke Museum and it is hoped that the Tyrannosaurus rex specimen will form the centrepiece of a new dinosaur exhibit when the refurbished museum fully opens in 2019.

Jacketed Ribs of the T. rex Lie Next to the Skull Block

T. rex fossils in the field being prepared for transport.

Ribs of a T. rex in their plaster jacket next to the skull block.

Picture Credit: Dave DeMar/Burke Museum

For the time being, visitors will have to content themselves with looking at the partially prepared skull fossil.  Dr. Greg Wilson (Burke Museum Adjunct Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology and University of Washington associate biology professor), helped with the first phase of the excavation and he is very excited about this meat-eating dinosaur fossil discovery.

Dr. Wilson stated:

“When we started to see those teeth with the skull, we knew we had a fantastic specimen.  Not only is it a fantastic specimen, it is incredibly rare.  Although arguably the most iconic and well-known species of dinosaur, the T. rex skull is one of only about fifteen reasonably complete ones known to exist in the world.”

Field Team Members Located the Squamosal Bone (Bone from the Back of the Skull)

The squamosal bone of a T. rex is exposed.

The back of the skull of a T. rex (squamosal bone exposed).

Picture Credit: Larry Mose/Burke Museum

An Average-Sized Skull for a Tyrannosaurus rex

Although the exact dimensions of the skull have yet to be calculated, this can wait until the rock matrix has been removed, researchers estimate that the skull measures about 1.2 metres long by about a metre wide.  The bones represent an adult animal, one that may have been around fifteen to twenty years of age and with an estimated length of more than ten metres, the fossils represent a sizeable beast.  The strata represent deposits laid down in an ancient riverbed.  The dinosaur might have drowned in the river, or more likely the corpse of the T. rex was washed downstream and buried before it could be scavenged by other predators.

Given the excellent state of preservation of the bones discovered so far, the scientists involved with the “Tufts-Love Rex” are confident that they will be able to learn much more about this particular dinosaur, perhaps even if the fossils represent a male or a female “Tyrant Lizard King”.

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