“N. rex” Excavation with the Museum of the Rockies, Montana 2002
At the end of the summer of 2001, Jack Horner, Curator of Paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies, and Nathan
Myhrvold, a Microsoft executive and dinosaur enthusiast, discovered the tip of a tooth sticking out of a small hillside
just as they were closing their camp. A quick excavation revealed a tooth and leg bones of a Tyrannosaurus rex,
the famous carnivorous dinosaur that lived in the Late Cretaceous of North America. Since time was running out they
promptly re-covered the site with plaster and burlap to protect it during the coming winter.
Jack contacted the Smithsonian and generously offered the use of his field camp to dig up the specimen. So it was
that a crew of staff and volunteers from the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum traveled to Montana in 2002
to the Charles M. Russell Wildlife Preserve on Ft. Peck Reservoir to collect the dinosaur. The team consisted of
Michael Brett-Surman, Steve Jabo, Peter Kroehler, Jen Young, Alex West, Skip Lyles, and Ken Gadow, and spent six weeks
digging up the bones. Approximately 30% of the bones of the T. rex were preserved in a thick layer of mudstone -
probably deposited during a flood event which carried them over a riverbank and dropped them onto the neighboring plain.
The sediments lithified and are now part of the Hell Creek Formation.
The team quarried the bones out, wrapped them in burlap and plaster field jackets, and shipped the smaller jackets
back to the museum. A helicopter was needed to haul three big jackets ranging from 200 to 1200 pounds out of the site
and back to camp. Among the bones identified so far are a complete right leg and foot - including the femur, tibia,
fibula, and all 16 foot bones - some pelvic pieces, vertebrae, many, many ribs, and that enigmatic tooth. We still
don’t know if there are more teeth, or if that tooth is part of a skull or a jaw. And there are many
as-yet-unidentified bones awaiting preparation.
Some preparation started in the spring of 2003 and is currently going strong in the National Museum of Natural
History’s exhibit FossiLab, where the public can watch the leg and foot bones being excavated. Our specimen is
around 67 million years old and is an interesting specimen – even for a T. rex. It's been called a
"robust" form of Tyrannosaurus rex, meaning it appears to be more massive than the more
"gracile", or slender, form, but this is the subject of ongoing scientific debate.
To view a slideshow and read about their field work experience,