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September 28, 2015 Comments Off on The Story of Sue’s Bones Views: 2806 Blog

The Story of Sue’s Bones

Here at MiSci, assembly work is underway for our latest special exhibit, A T. rex Named Sue! A life-sized casting of the original at the Field Museum in Chicago, Sue is the world’s most complete T. rex skeleton ever found, measuring at 42 feet long and 12 feet high at the hips! Learn more about this limited engagement exhibit in the following blog adapted from The Field Museum’s website.

Excavating Sue’s Bones

When Sue Hendrickson discovered her namesake’s bones sticking out of a bluff, all she could see were a few large vertebrae.

Sue and the rest of the team chiseled away the rock surrounding each bone and reinforced the fossils with glue. Next, they made a protective jacket for each piece by layering on cloth soaked in plaster.

It took six people 17 days to free Sue. By that time, the team realized they had a unique find—a virtually complete, articulated skeleton of a huge Tyrannosaurus rex.

A team works to unearth a T rex skeleton

Preparing Sue’s Bones

The Field Museum purchased Sue at auction in 1997 and brought her to Chicago.

The museum built the glass-enclosed McDonald’s Fossil Preparation Laboratory—a state-of-the-art facility for removing the rock from Sue’s bones.

First, preparators began clearing away the rocky matrix by using an air scribe (a mini jackhammer). Next, the bones were cleaned with an air-abrasion machine (a mini sandblaster) and other fine tools. Any broken bones were carefully glued back together.

In total, it took 12 Field Museum technicians more than 30,000 hours to prepare Sue’s bones! Just the skull alone required 3,500 hours of work.

A scientist cleans a T rex skeleton

Modeling Sue’s Bones

After cleaning and repairing Sue’s bones, preparators made exact copies of each one—five complete casts in total.

Some of the copies remain at the museum so that visiting scientists can study Sue’s bones. Others have been assembled into full skeletons and travel the world, giving everyone a chance to see this amazing T. rex.

Sue’s missing bones also needed to be fabricated. The Field Museum called other museums with T. rex skeletons, hoping to find models for the absent parts. But in Sue’s case, these bones weren’t big enough.

Instead, substitute pieces were created. A few of Sue’s bones were cast twice, then the extra casts were modified in size and shape to fill in the gaps. Some bones that were present on one side but missing on the other were matched using computer generated modeling. And a couple of bones—like the missing tip of Sue’s tail—were sculpted by an artist.

A scientist cleans fossilized T rex teeth

Exhibiting Sue’s Skeleton

Once Field Museum preparators had cleaned and repaired her bones, Sue was ready to be assembled. So, the Field Museum called in Phil Fraley Productions, experts in mounting large, fossilized specimens.

Older methods of mounting heavy fossils involved drilling holes through the bones for iron supports. But Fraley’s method safely cradles the bones in the positions they would have held in life. The result is a more realistic posture for Sue that doesn’t damage her bones.

Finally, Sue made her dramatic debut on May 17, 2000. And now, in 2015, Sue comes to Detroit Oct. 17 – Dec. 31!

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